Louisiana’s crawfish producers generally are harvesting more pounds this season than last, allaying fears about damage from last summer’s flooding.
By Vicky Boyd
After historic flooding in south Louisiana last summer, many crawfish producers were concerned about how the 2017 season would shape up. With harvest numbers in mid-February significantly above the same time last year, crawfish have shown their resiliency.
“It definitely wasn’t a crop failure—I think we’re in pretty good shape,” says Christian Richard, a rice and crawfish producer near Kaplan, La.
The larger catches may have quashed earlier worries, but they also have caused the market to respond accordingly.
“It’s the purest form of economics you’ll find,” he says. “When the catch goes up, the price goes down the next day.”
In mid-February, Richard was selling crawfish to wholesale buyers for $1.25 per pound. The same time last year, they were fetching $2.25 per pound.
Although producers typically dislike low prices, Fred Zaunbrecher says they may make crawfish more accessible to price-conscious consumers who before were unable to afford the crustaceans.
“I think the lower price is helping them out,” says Zaunbrecher, who farms rice and crawfish near Duson, La.
Demand has been strong, and Richard says he believes unseasonably warm weather has prompted consumers to hold more crawfish boils.
Both he and Zaunbrecher say they expect this year’s later Easter—April 16— will further spur demand as many consumers give up red meat for the 40 days of Lent. With strengthening demand, they say they hope for firmer prices.
Production is up
Overall, Louisiana’s crawfish production is substantially higher this year than at the same last year, with part of that due to additional acres, says Ray McClain, a Louisiana State University AgCenter aquaculture researcher based in Crowley.
An unusually mild winter also reduced crawfish mortality.
A small number of producers are lagging behind this season compared to the same time last year. But McClain says, “It’s hard to say how much of that is due to extended flooding and how much is to do other factors.
“Particularly with crawfish, it’s unlike most other crops. It’s just not uniform from year to year. Even in a normal year, there’s a certain small percentage of farmers who are behind for whatever reason even though the majority of farmers are doing good or in some cases even better than normal.”
Crawfish crossing the roads
Where Richard and his family farm, high water from torrential rains last summer topped roads, levees and flooded houses for more than 10 days.
“We had crawfish crossing the roads, and this happened the second week of August, which is way too early for these crawfish to be coming out of their holes,” he says. “So we were very scared about what would be left.”
Zaunbrecher also has seen a similar bump in production compared to the same time last year. Like Richard, he experienced flooded fields and roads in August, but the high water doesn’t appear to have had a lingering effect.
“I don’t think the water stayed on the ground long enough before it came off,” Zaunbrecher says.
Late-summer flooding can flush crawfish from their burrows, making them fair game for predators. It also interrupts breeding and egg laying. In addition, extended periods of flooding may cause stagnation, robbing the water of oxygen and suffocating crawfish in their burrows.