Louisiana crawfish season off to shaky start

    The early crawfish season has been off to a shaky start in Louisiana with lingering effects from floods, droughts and now a cold snap, but industry leaders are hoping to bounce back with warmer weather in the coming weeks.

    “We certainly aren’t going to break any records,” says LSU AgCenter Professor Greg Lutz. “We were on track to have a pretty good season up until the flooding in August, then with the drought in the fall, a lot of places are way behind on their crawfish.”

    When summer begins, female crawfish start moving to the edges of the body of water they live in, digging burrows that trap moisture to live off of until they lay eggs around August, Lutz says. If not enough rain falls, the “plug” made at the top of the burrow will dry up and make it impossible for the mother crawfish to move the children to water in the fall, and the smaller crawfish will starve to death.

    Last year, torrential rain in August flooded many crawfish ponds, and a drought struck many parishes in the following weeks. Farmers enjoyed warm weather through much of November and December, but a cold snap in recent weeks has hurt the size and quality of crawfish.

    “We’re in uncharted territory,” says Steve Minvielle, owner of Bayouland Farms in New Iberia. “All I can say is it’s way lower than last year.”

    Minvielle says it is impossible to tell how many crawfish were simply flooded out of their burrows. He added that many farmers lost tractors and other equipment in the flood. The drought did not help, and now Minvielle is eager for warmer weather.

    Lutz says crawfish prices are sensitive to supply and demand, which can change each week depending on the weather. For instance, cold weather that Louisiana has experienced in recent weeks is bad for farmers, because crawfish are less likely to grow or move into the traps.

    “They have to move into the traps—and when it’s cold they don’t move,” Lutz says. “You could put filet mignon in front of them and they would not move.”

    He suspects it will take around 10 to 14 days for the water to warm back up—if temperatures rise as expected into the 70s—and for farmers to reap the benefits.

    Farmers before the holidays were getting around $3.50 per pound of crawfish, Lutz says, compared to the season-long average of roughly $1.60 per pound. Prices are commonly higher before the season gets underway in mid-January, and the quality and size are lower. Consumers pay much more than those prices throughout the season.

    Bill Pizzolato, owner of Tony’s Seafood in Baton Rouge, says he currently is charging $5.29 per pound of boiled crawfish, which is high, but added he expects prices to drop soon and crawfish to get larger and more plentiful.

    There are still some suppliers Pizzolato is not purchasing from because the crawfish are not big enough yet. Prices are currently a little bit higher than the same time last year, and it will be “touch and go” for the next several weeks, he adds.

    “When you fool with nature it’s always the unknown,” Pizzolato says. “But by the looks of it, the ponds are going to be producing pretty good even compared to last year. We’re almost on track.”

    —Sam Karlin

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