Holy Week crawfish supply should satisfy demand

Louisiana crawfishermen and the merchants who sell the crustacean to retail customers say the supply should be enough to satisfy appetites during Holy Week and Easter weekend, a welcome turn to a season marred by a harsh winter that stunted crawfish growth, limited the catch and made profit forecasts bleak.

In the days leading into Holy Week, prices for a pound of live crawfish ran from $2 at Db Seafood in Morgan City to $2.49 at Tony’s Seafood Market and Deli in Baton Rouge. The price was somewhere in between at D&T Seafood in Abbeville, where live, small-sized crawfish sold for $1.50 a pound and the mediums went for $2.25.

“We’re going to have a decent supply” for Easter week, said D&T owner Don Benoit.

A boiled batch of crawfish this past week cost $4.98 to $4.70 per pound for the large-sized at D&T Seafood, a serving that includes potatoes and corn. At Db Seafood, it was $3 a pound but without potatoes and corn. At Tony’s, customers paid $3.69 a pound, but it didn’t come with the extras.

It was slow going for months, Tony’s co-owner Bill Pizzolato said, but supplies have improved enough to pull prices down 50 cents per pound over the past week.

“We don’t know what Easter week (prices) are going to be,” Pizzolato said, explaining that heightened demand in the next eight days should drive up prices. “Next week, we’ll just have to see what happens, when we’ll see what the volume of crawfish coming in is.”

Pizzolato said he buys Atchafalaya Basin crawfish from the Belle River area and pond crawfish from farmers in Evangeline, Vermilion and Acadia parishes.

“We’re buying a lot of crawfish from the ponds, and the spillway (basin) is just starting to pick up,” Pizzolato said. “There’s been enough supply in the last two to three weeks. It’s gotten a lot better than the previous two months.”

Crawfish in south Louisiana mainly come from two sources: the Atchafalaya Basin, which starts producing crawfish in late winter and spring; and from pond farmers across south and central Louisiana who start harvesting flooded fields in November.

The crawfish caught by pond farmers and basin fishermen are brought to retail sellers such as Db Seafood owner Glinda Armond, who also buys basin and pond crawfish for her store on La. 70 in Morgan City.

Armond said basin crawfishermen in and near Belle River are starting to pull in respectable hauls, though the water in the basin remains low.

This past winter dealt a double blow to the crawfish industry. The freezes delayed the growth and movement of pond crawfish. And freezes up north delayed the thaw that normally brings water to the basin. Both phenomena led to delayed or lost revenue for fishermen.

Stephen Minvielle, who farms 80 acres of ponds in Iberia Parish and is head of the Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association, said pond fishermen are just starting to climb out of the financial hole.

“We’re not doing well. We’re doing OK,” Minvielle said. “Well means you’re in the black and profitable and working on substantial returns. OK means you’re getting some of your investment back with a few crumbs in the end.”

Minvielle, whose association represents about 1,200 of the state’s 1,700 pond crawfishermen, said he’s finally pulling enough crawfish out of his pond to reach profitability. He said that in January, he pulled four sacks of crawfish a day from his ponds. Now, his daily yield is 12 to 13 sacks, an improvement but nowhere near the 25 or 30 sacks a day he brings to market in a normal year.

Gabe LeBlanc, part owner of the Acadiana Fisherman’s Co-Op in Henderson, said crawfish catches so far this year in the western Atchafalaya Basin are meager.

“It all depends on the water levels in the basin, the water quality,” LeBlanc said.

Those who make their living from the basin are looking north, awaiting the thaw that should send water south, raise the basin’s water level and improve the water quality.

“We watch the water levels all the way up north, and we watch the rain,” Pizzolato said. “The water up north is at flood stage, and it takes the water eight to 10 days to get down here.”