crawfish is a springtime tradition in Louisiana. However,
crawfish connoisseurs will have to curb their cravings this
year or be ready to shell out extra cash to dine on mudbugs.
Louisiana produces between 70 million and 100 million pounds
of crawfish annually, with an economic value of more than
$120 million. A large amount of that production is consumed
in-state, making the economic impact even higher due to
multiplying factors involved, such as restaurant employment,
tourist activities, transportation, processing, etc.
spring of 2006 is turning out to be a crawfish lover’s
nightmare. Crawfish are in short supply, and the ones available
are smaller than normal and expensive. Last year was a good
crawfish year with good supplies and reasonable prices.
This year’s woes would be easy to blame on the catastrophic
hurricane season Louisiana experienced, but it actually
began before Katrina and Rita.
drought began in the spring of ‘05 and continues in
spite of the hurricanes. The 2005 year ended with a rainfall
deficit of approximately 15 inches. And in the first two
months of ’06, rainfall is short by more than 5 inches.
The average annual rainfall for Southwest Louisiana is around
60 inches. So, for the last year, about 20 inches –
or one-third – of the normal rainfall is missing.
What this means is low water tables and dry soils, which
is bad news for crawfish.
crawfish ponds in Louisiana are managed so that crawfish
reproduce in burrows from May-June through October. During
this five month period, ponds are kept dry or mostly dewatered.
The pond bottoms are cultivated and re-leveled in some cases.
Rice or sorghum-sudan is planted or natural vegetation growth
is encouraged. Burrows serve as a refuge from predators
and provide a moist environment necessary for crawfish to
survive until high water returns. Most crawfish eggs are
laid and many are hatched while female crawfish are in burrows.
burrows are built at night, usually dug by an individual
crawfish, and may require several days to construct. The
burrow is generally one to three feet deep, but may be deeper
during drought conditions. Burrows usually consist of a
single, vertical tunnel. Its diameter is determined by the
size of the crawfish. The burrows extend downward into a
terminal chamber, which is filled with several inches of
wet slush that serves as a humidifier when water is not
present in the hole. Water levels in burrows vary with the
depth of the water table and rainfall. The opening of the
completed burrow is covered at the top with a chimney or
mud plug to retain moisture. Drought conditions cause high
burrow mortality in crawfish.
extended drought impact on crawfish was exacerbated by the
storm surge from Hurricane Rita, which filled ponds with
saltwater. If the high salinity water alone didn’t
kill the crawfish, high temperatures following the storm
caused water quality problems.
what this means to crawfish lovers is the crop will be late,
in short supply and more than likely expensive.
information for this column came from the LSU AgCenter’s
Crawfish Production Manual, publication No. 2637. A copy
can be downloaded from www.lsuagcenter.com.