Louisiana Crawfish boil

Gov. Landry seeks federal relief to help Louisiana crawfish farmers and $425M industry

CROWLEY, La. – Gov. Jeff Landry is seeking federal emergency assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address the devastating impacts of the recent drought on Louisiana’s domestic crawfish industry.

In a letter on Wednesday to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Landry asked to expand the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program to include drought as a cause of loss for farm-raised fish, including crawfish. 

“Louisiana leads our country in crawfish production, contributing over $425 million in total to the state’s economy. This year’s drought is affecting our farmers, our economy, and our way of life in Louisiana. I am requesting the federal government provide much-needed relief to our domestic crawfish industry. Our farmers and fishermen have helped bolster our economy for centuries, and now it’s time we have their back,” Landry stated.  

The governor went on to say “the impact of crawfish goes far beyond the table – providing jobs, industry, and innovation. Our farmers and fishermen have been vital to Louisiana’s economic success and have contributed tirelessly to the State’s culture for many generations.”

The drought caused crawfish prices to skyrocket at the start of the season and Louisiana production is off to a slow start.

Higher temperatures last summer and drought contributed to the decrease, according to crawfish farmers and experts from Louisiana State University’s College of Agriculture.

“The whole season will be one of the lowest on record,” Todd Fontenot told UWK. “It’s gonna be a low production season.”

Fontenot is the crawfish extension agent with the LSU AgCenter and a crawfish farmer who grew up on his family’s farm in Evangeline Parish just north of Eunice. 

Louisiana is the largest producer of crawfish in the U.S. and the industry contributes more than $425 million to the state’s economy annually. Courtesy: Jason Brad Berry

The crawfish season, or harvesting time, in Louisiana varies and starts earlier for farmers in southern Louisiana closer to the coast in November and December. The season and harvest starts slightly later for farmers closer to I-10 and even further north in central Louisiana parishes like Evangeline and St. Landry.

The big issue this year, according to Fontenot, is farmers in southern Louisiana were not able to “flood up” for production due to salinity and real dry conditions caused by the drought and excessive heat last summer.

“We’re talking about almost 45,000 acres that did not even go into production that normally would have. [It] put a reduction in the amount of crawfish being produced,” said Fontenot.

“Those who were able to start crawfishing are seeing a reduction in their catch. They’re much lower than normal and in some cases they’re not really seeing any crawfish in their pond.”

Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

One person keeping a close eye on the 2024 crawfish season is Mark Bernard, president of the Crawfish Festival Association, which hosts the annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival in May. 

“It’s difficult to compete with Mother Nature. Mother Nature is gonna do what it has to do,” said Bernard. “For many years we’ve tried to get crawfish on the table earlier and earlier than we used to years ago, when I was a kid.”

Breaux Bridge, officially designated the “Crawfish Capital of the World” by the Louisiana Legislature, welcomes thousands of tourists every year who look forward to eating crawfish year-round, increasing demand. 

“The pond crawfish, which is usually what you’re getting at this time of year, are off dramatically,” said Bernard. “There’s a few out there to have a little bit, but it’s far from what the demands are … it will naturally drive the cost up.”

Louisiana is the largest producer of crawfish in the U.S. and the industry contributes more than $425 million to the state’s economy annually. In the 1940s, rice farmers developed a method of farming crawfish, according to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries. Today, over 1,300 crawfish farmers and 1,000 crawfish fishermen supply 100 to 120 million pounds of crawfish every year. 

While the vast majority of the state’s crawfish production is farm-raised in thousands of acres of crawfish ponds throughout the state, farm-raised and wild-caught crawfish crops complement each other. Farm-raised crawfish are typically available late fall through mid-spring and wild-caught crawfish dominate the market from mid-spring to early summer. 

Warmer weather, time and growing conditions matter

February is typically the time when the crawfish season picks up and the catch becomes plentiful and farmers start catching sufficient numbers. Fortunately for crawfish lovers, it also happens to coincide with Lent most years. The few crawfish that did emerge earlier this year are those being caught now and they’re very low in number, according to Fontenot.

“Unfortunately, yes, our production is down. There’s no question about that right now,” Fontenot said. “Some of our producers are seeing more young crawfish but those aren’t at marketable size yet. It will take some time for them to grow and get to marketable size.”

What will it take for crawfish to get to a more marketable size? Time, warm weather and good growing conditions are key factors for the crawfish to feed and get bigger.

“If we have good weather [and] warmer temperatures, where crawfish can feed well, they’re gonna grow well,” Fontenot said. “The growth of crawfish is based on temperature, the colder it gets, the less they move, the less they move, the less they eat. So as temperatures warm up food quality is better… they move more, eat more and grow.”

Winter weather had little impact on this year’s production. The cold snap across Louisiana in mid-January wasn’t too long and while it slowed things down a bit, temperatures rebounded quickly.

While there are no guarantees, Bernard is optimistic that crawfish season can still bounce back by the time the Crawfish Festival rolls around the first full weekend in May. 

“I suspect within 30 to 45 days, things will start to balance out and we should possibly start seeing the basin crawfish kick in. You know the deep water,” Bernard said. “Nature has a way of taking care of itself, you know.”

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