Louisiana’s famed crawfish harvest is bouncing back two years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the $40-million industry – and the proof is in all the live CRAWFISH signs that are popping up all over St. Charles Parish.
“This year’s crop is one of the best that we’ve seen in the last few seasons,” says Willie Hebert Jr. (right) of Hebert’s Seafood in Boutte.
You can thank a mild winter and heavy rainfall for the bumper crop of the tiny crustaceans, which, if you’re new here, look like miniature lobsters and are a staple of Cajun cooking.
Crawfish are harvested on farms or trapped in the state’s swamps and wetlands.
About 40 percent of Louisiana’s crawfish production comes from the Atchafalaya basin, a 1.4 million-acre stretch of forest and swamp west of St. Charles Parish.
Wetlands and crawfish farms were feared devastated by the saltwater carried ashore by the storms.
“We had some acreage that got impacted, especially by Hurricane Rita, and there was some question about how that would linger into crawfish season,” says Greg Lutz, a LSU aquaculture specialist.
“It looks like it’s going to be a good crop,” said Darrel Rivere, a Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board member.
“We already have early water in the basin, so it looks like the basin is going to be vibrant this year,” Rivere said.
Mature crawfish usually start showing up in seafood stores by late January and are available well into late spring or early summer. Producers still worry that the scattering of residents from the largest crawfish market — New Orleans — may cut demand.
Less than half of the city’s pre-Katrina population of 460,000 has returned and there are far fewer tourists and conventioneers chowing down on crawfish po-boys and platters of etouffee.
However, many of those who relocated due to Hurricane Katrina are introducing crawfish to new markets in other parts of the country, Lutz said.