NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana crawfish farmers hope to meet demand for Mardi Gras with production down after last summer’s hurricanes and some farmers opting to plant higher-priced crops rather than flood crawfish ponds.
Stephen Minvielle, director of the Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association, estimated production at half what it was this time last year with the storms — particularly Hurricane Ike, which pushed saltwater capable of killing crawfish into south Louisiana ponds — taking a toll.
A recent cold snap contributed to less-than-optimal pond temperatures, causing many of the so-called mud bugs to hunker down underground, he said.
Farmers hope conditions improve heading into the peak of the season in late March and early April. Crawfish boils are popular for Mardi Gras, with the smell and sight of crawfish — including the red, discarded shells — common along St. Charles Ave. and other parade routes in New Orleans.
”We’ll freeze to death if we have to,” he said. ”But we will have crawfish. There just may not be as many.”
They also might cost a bit more.
David Savoy, a south Louisiana farmer who’s also with the association, believes Minvielle’s production estimate may be high. On Savoy’s farm near Church Point, 15 workers catch two to three sacks of crawfish apiece each day. They should be getting 25 to 30 sacks each, he said.
”People want crawfish at a cheap price, but nothing we touch is cheap,” he said, noting the cost of bait, man-hours and diesel fuel to run generators for ponds.
While some farmers say they’re doing fine, Savoy predicted a shortage of farm-produced crawfish for Mardi Gras on Feb. 24. Farm-raised crawfish is considered Louisiana’s most valuable aquaculture crop. Savoy said he’d been expecting good production by mid-February but now only expects ”semi-adequate production” by mid-March.
If conditions don’t improve by March and rice prices are high, some crawfish farmers may plant rice instead, Savoy said. Going into this season, some farmers had already swapped crawfish acres for crops like soybeans, which had been fetching higher prices, he said.
Some buyers don’t seem too worried yet.
Elton Bernard, who has a store in south-central Louisiana, said he buys 6 million to 7 million pounds of live crawfish a year and expects no problems meeting the demands of the supermarkets and chain stores he supplies. But Bernard also buys from overseas, not just local farms.
Tenney Flynn, a chef-owner at GW Fins seafood restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter, likes using Louisiana crawfish instead of shrimp when he can to make etouffee, a stew served over rice. But Flynn, who prices his menu daily, said the price must be attractive and he hasn’t priced crawfish yet.