Crawfish numbers down

By Heather R. Breaux

February 04, 2009 at 11:26 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Almost immediately after the holidays, south Louisiana consumers start thinking about crawfish. Crawfish boils aren’t uncommon the first warm weekend of the year.
But according to an LSU AgCenter aquaculture specialist, early harvests are down this year, making crawfish a little harder to come by.

“As of right now, a lot of producers are off by as much as a third or a half of what they normally would have caught by this point in the season,” said LSU AgCenter crawfish expert Dr. Greg Lutz.

But local seafood retailers say that although this year’s crop is off to a slow start, crawfish are in demand.

“Superbowl weekend was a  big weekend for us,” said Boutte seafood retailer James DeBautte. “And we were able to fulfill all orders.”

DeBautte adds that crawfish prices vary by day and are normally higher in the beginning of the season.

With that said, live crawfish are averaging $2.79 per pound and boiled are ringing up at $3.79 per pound at most of the parish’s seafood sellers.

“What the fishermen catch and its availability is what determines the price of crawfish,” DeBautte added. “And just like everything else, crawfish aren’t as cheap as they used to be.”

The life cycle of a crawfish is complicated, and survival rates depend on several factors, Lutz said, adding that it looks like a few things went wrong last year to affect this year’s crop.

“The summer was extremely dry in some areas,” Lutz said. “And generally when we see that, that means we’re going to see low survival down in the ground in those burrows.”

Hurricane Gustav also affected crawfish survival, Lutz said. Heavy rains flooded many crawfish ponds, forcing crawfish out of their burrows early. The crawfish emerged into water that had plenty of debris and little oxygen.

Temperatures are also an important factor in the crawfish harvest. In Louisiana, it’s hard to predict winter weather, Lutz said, pointing out that January has had cold and rainy days mixed with a few warmer ones.

Cooler temperatures hold oxygen in the ponds, but there is a down side to the cold, he said.

“Crawfish are cold-blooded animals, and the colder water slows the crawfish metabolism until they get to a point where they just pretty much stop growing,” Lutz said.

In cold weather, crawfish aren’t eating, they aren’t growing and they are not going in the traps, Lutz explained.
He said as the ponds warm, more crawfish may be available. 

“The good thing is there are crawfish out there,” Lutz said. “If you want crawfish, you can find crawfish. You may have to make a few extra phone calls, but they are out there.”




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