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Home > Resources & Publications > Newsletters & Magazines > Chenier Ecology > 2006 > 3-06

Resources & Publications:  Chenier Ecology

March 2006

On average, 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.

The 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.

An extended 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.

Most 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.

Most 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.

The 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.

So, what this means to crawfish lovers is the crop will be late, in short supply and more than likely expensive.

Some 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.


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