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Crawfish Season Starts Slow

the Fish Site Editor
26 January 2010, at 12:00am

US - The crawfish season is off to a slow start according to Stephen Minvielle, director of the Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association.

The current state average is less than one sack per 25 acres of land, which is much lower than the normal average of one per 10 acres, Mr Minvielle told The Daily Reveille.

“With the conditions we had early on, we should have had a really good season,” Mr Minvielle said. “The catch did not show up.”

Robert Romaire, professor at the Aquaculture Research Station, said this year’s unusually low temperatures are responsible for the limited catch.

“With cold weather, the catch falls quite dramatically,” Mr Romaire said. “Their metabolism slows down, they’re not active and they’re not hungry.”

The Aquaculture Research Station developed formulated bait that attracts crawfish in warm water, but doesn’t have effective bait for colder temperatures.

“That’s an area of research that we’re working on,” Mr Romaire said.

Bill Pizzolato, owner of Tony’s Seafood located on Plank Road, said he was getting quality crawfish and lower prices before the cold weather.

“The consistent cold really affected the supply and slowed down production,” Mr Pizzolato said. “The prices went up in the past two or three weeks.”

Mr Pizzolato said boiled crawfish went from $3.69 a pound to $4.49 a pound, and live crawfish are only $1 less than boiled.

Mr Minvielle said the current price is almost exactly the same as last season at this time, but with half the production.

Mr Romaire said crawfish play an important role in Louisiana’s economy.

“Louisiana crawfish is a $400 million a year industry,” Mr Romaire told The Daily Revielle. “There are several thousands of people employed in its various facets.”

Mr Minvielle said farming crawfish is a stable industry for the state.

“There are 150,000 pounds produced at farm level each year,” he said. “And the crawfish roll over approximately seven times in the process.”

Mr Minvielle also said crawfish are the safest food people can eat in Louisiana.

“They are non-tolerant to any chemical — pesticides or herbicides,” he said.

Crawfish’s distinctiveness also attracts tourists.

“You have shrimp in other states. You have crabs and oysters in other states. But crawfish is really unique to Louisiana,” Mr Romaire said. “When people come and visit from other states, the first thing they usually say is ‘Can I get some crawfish?’”

The number of harvestable crawfish begins to drastically peak around late February and early March, but Romaire said many farmers like to catch as many as they can as early as they can because buyers pay top dollar earlier in the season.

With around 1,300 licensed crawfish fisherman and roughly the same amount of crawfish farmers in the state, many people depend on the crawfish season as their livelihood, Mr Minvielle said.

Mr Minvielle said he usually spends around $30,000 a year on his crawfish farm.

“If I don’t make double that, I need to find something else to do for a living,” he said. But hope is not completely lost.

The crawfish will return to their normal level of activity when the cold front subsides, Mr Romaire said.

“The consumers won’t have any issues with the relative supply of crawfish this year,” Mr Romaire said. “From our conversations with farmers, they are seeing lots of little ones, which is a good sign.”

Mr Romaire said the Atchafalaya River Basin received a lot of water this year, and if the water levels remain high, the basin will serve as an additional source.

Conditions were ideal before the cold weather, Mr Minvielle said.

The relatively wet summer was conducive to crawfish survival and reproduction in the burrows, and the wet October and November months helped induce the females out of the burrows, Mr Romaire said.

The mild winter was also beneficial for the water quality.

“Ecologically, what occurs underneath the water is a lot more complicated and advanced than other types of aquaculture,” Mr Romaire said.

Unlike catfish or rainbow trout farms, crawfish ponds are stocked without being counted and without a formulated diet. Mr Romaire said this method of farming is more unpredictable, but less costly.

Rice is grown for the crawfish, which decays and produces bacteria, which snails and other organisms crawfish like to eat, Mr Romaire said.

“Crawfish farms are almost managed like a natural environment,” Mr Romaire said. “We try to simulate what happens in the Atchafalaya River Basin under ideal conditions.”

Mr Minvielle said he can be attentive and do his job, but ultimately his success is determined by the weather.

“It’s like a video poker machine,” Mr Minvielle said. “It’s a gamble.”