Freezes reduce crawfish supply ahead of Super Bowl

January’s cold fronts, including two freezes in the last week, have chilled Louisiana’s crawfish yield just in time for this weekend’s Super Bowl, when orders for live and boiled crawfish keep merchants’ phones ringing.

This year, the phones are ringing, but there’s not much to sell. At least right now.

“It’s hurting us pretty bad,” said Tricia Benoit, whose family owns D&T Crawfish in Abbeville, which sells them live or boiled.

Benoit said the supply now is half what it normally is in January, and in the last week, D&T has had to add 50 cents a pound to the live crawfish they sell, bringing the price $4.50 a pound. Boiled crawfish, which D&T sells with potatoes and corn, costs almost $6 a pound

“We need warm sunshine,” Benoit said.

In Baton Rouge, Tony’s Seafood Market and Deli is used to fishermen bringing in 50 to 100 sacks a day, which Tony’s sells live and boiled to customers. Now Tony’s receives 50 to 75 sacks a week, Tony’s co-owner Bill Pizzolato said. One sack normally contains 30 pounds of crawfish.

“The cold this year has been hurting us compared to last year,” Pizzolato said.

On Thursday, Tony’s had no crawfish to sell, live or boiled, Pizzolato said. He expected 25 to 30 sacks on Friday, but because it’s Super Bowl weekend and demand is high, the entire day’s supply will sell in hours.

Because of the uncertainty this year, Tony’s is not letting customers reserve crawfish over the phone, he said.

On Thursday the cost of frozen crawfish tails, the only crawfish in Tony’s on Thursday, was $12.99 a pound.

Crawfish season in Louisiana runs from November to July, with the peak months being March, April and May.

Ray McClain, an LSU agriculture professor and crawfish researcher, said the long-term effects of the freeze will be minimal.

Cold weather, McClain said, suspends the movement, appetite and growth of young pond crawfish. He said the weather merely slowed the growth of young crawfish.

“This is the slow harvest period anyway, so the effect on the season is minimal,” McClain said. “Once we get two months of warmer weather, the crawfish will grow to normal sizes again.”

Others are not so sure that this year’s crop will grow to normal sizes once it gets warmer.

“Prior to all this cold weather it was looking promising,” said David McGraw, who owns the distribution company Louisiana Crawfish in Natchitoches. The company distributes crawfish to restaurants and other businesses around the country.

This season, McGraw has been selling crawfish since November. His employees harvest the crawfish grown in the company’s ponds and he pays fishermen who bring sacks of crawfish to Natchitoches.

“In another week or two we’ll have a better idea of what will happen to the crawfish,” McGraw said. “I think it’ll take a week of warmer weather to get the water temperature up.”

Stephen Minvielle, a crawfish farmer in New Iberia who is part of the Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association, said no one really knows if this year’s crop was permanently hurt by the cold.

“We’ve never done a study on (prolonged freezes) because we don’t have it that often,” Minvielle said.

It’s been since the early 1980s, Minvielle said, since Acadiana experienced temperatures that low for that long. He said farmers who harvest crawfish in ponds have had experience dealing with drought or too much rain but not freezes.

“We don’t have any models or history to go on,” he said.