Farmers: Crawfish on track

The supply of Louisiana crawfish this year should be plentiful and reasonably priced, but some who grow and harvest the Cajun delicacy are trying to rebound after rain last week topped the levees that encircle ponds.

Steve Minvielle, Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association executive director, said the weather last week “kind of kicked us in the teeth.”

Minvielle, who harvests crawfish at his Bayouland Farms LLC in New Iberia, said there are 1,200 members in the association, and some of them were hit hard by constant rain over three days that caused water to overrun the levees.

“They’re kinda panicking. They’re trying to get their equipment to higher ground,” Minvielle said Thursday as rain pummeled south Louisiana.

He said farmers in Acadia and St. Landry locations such as Eunice, Palmetto and Whiteville, where rain fell in abundance, have experienced a setback.

Chris Cheramie, general manager of LA Boilers & Seafood Market in Baton Rouge, said he was scrambling Thursday morning to buy as much crawfish as he could because of last week’s two-day rain.

“The rain can slow things down,” Cheramie said Thursday. “In the western part of the state they’ve had so much rain, some of the farmers couldn’t find their traps.”

Excessive flooding can cause levees to overtop, and that can push crawfish out of ponds and introduce crawfish-eating fish into the ponds, LSU Agriculutal Center crawfish researcher Ray McClain said in a news release Friday.

David McGraw, a farmer and distributor in Natchitoches, said he had to cancel orders last week for live crawfish because of the rain.

McGraw, whose Louisiana Crawfish Co. ships to restaurants and others instate and outside Louisiana, said the weather-caused delays shouldn’t hurt for too long.

McGraw said non-pond crawfishermen who set their traps in the Atchafalaya Basin are telling him those crawfish are plentiful and full now, a source that will add to Louisiana’s supply.

Retailers and restaurant owners in Baton Rouge said the size of the crawfish so far has been pretty good for early in the season. Many described the crawfish as a solid “medium” size.

“We are selling crawfish right now at about $4.99 a pound. As the season continues and the weather gets warmer, prices will drop and crawfish will get bigger,” Cheramie said. LA Boilers & Seafood Market has been boiling about 300 pounds of crawfish every other day, he said.

“The crawfish are looking good,” said Criket LeBlanc, manager at All ’Bout Crawfish in Breaux Bridge.

LeBlanc said the restaurant now charges $15.95 for 3 pounds of boiled crawfish and $25.95 for 5 pounds. Both orders come with potatoes and corn.

Michael Shelley, a manager at Sammy’s Grille on Highland Road in Baton Rouge, said his restaurant is also serving 3-pound trays of crawfish with corn and potatoes for $15.95.

McGraw said his company is shipping live crawfish out of state for $4.50 to $4.75 a pound, which includes transportation.

“That’s early (in the season) prices,” he said.

He said Louisiana buyers can purchase live mudbugs locally for about $3.50 a pound, a price that should fall as winter turns to spring.

Bill Pizzolato, co-owner of Tony’s Seafood Market and Deli on Plank Road in Baton Rouge, said his operation started boiling in December and has been boiling approximately 40 to 50 sacks of crawfish a day. The cost of boiled crawfish at Tony’s on Friday was $4.29 a pound, he said.

Louisiana Cajun Seafood on Coursey Boulevard in Baton Rouge is selling crawfish at $4.49 a pound right now, employee Anthony Hoang said.

Crawfish supply typically peaks in mid-April to mid-May, when farm-raised production peaks and catches from the wild begin, McClain said in the release.

Anne Kinnett raises crawfish on 600 acres at her farm in the St. Charles Parish community of Paradis. She said the weather last week didn’t harm operations at Kappa Loyal LLC.

“I’m getting calls from all over the country” inquiring about buying crawfish, Kinnett said.

“They’re (crawfish) bigger now then they normally are at this time,” she said.

Kinnett said she’s comparing this year to the past, drought-filled seasons when eggs had no water in which to hatch.

Kinnett said her employees started hauling bounty from the traps this week, and that it was Hurricane Isaac in August that hurt operations at her farm. She said she filled her ponds in late November rather than the usual October, but the outlook is good.

“They’re large, and we’re going to have a good season,” Kinnett said.