Sun casts light on crawfish

New Orleanians with a craving for crawfish should be happy that the sun is shining again, a weather change that should mean there will be a plentiful supply of mudbugs as Carnival season moves into high gear and sports fans plan Super Bowl parties.

Stephen Minville, a crawfish farmer who represents the industry on the Louisiana Seafood and Marketing Board, said the rainy weather earlier this month created a problem for farmers. In some crawfish ponds, the water was feet over the tops of the levee. When that happens, he said, the crawfish swim out.

“Between the lightning strikes and the flooding, it’s been hard,’’ he said.

But Minville was out in his boat in New Iberia on Thursday under sunny skies, expecting a good day. Reports from Acadia indicate that they were bringing in traps full of crawfish, he said.

“We had lots of calls out of New Orleans looking for them,’’ he said.

That demand will continue past the hoopla of Carnival and into Lent, which Minville said provides “a good excuse’’ to eat them.

While the rain caused some headaches for crawfish farmers, it has a positive side for the Atchafalaya Basin, the source of wild-caught crawfish.

Darryl Rivere, who represents seafood wholesalers on the Louisiana Seafood and Marketing Board, said that timing of the rainy weather was good. The Basin needs to get enough water to produce a good crop, and that’s heavily dependent on snow melt. Getting enough water is important to flush the area, he said.

Pond-raised crawfish will have a great year, he said, and while he doesn’t expect an early season for the wild-caught crawfish, he is predicting a good haul. “Everyone will get their fill, and it will be reasonably priced,’’ he said.

As for the Super Bowl, that presents another opportunity to introduce new consumers to the tasty crustaceans.

“New Orleans does such a good job of presenting it to newcomers,’’ he said, noting that crawfish are no longer just a regional commodity but have become a national product, especially in the last five to 10 years.

Merlin Schaefer, who owns Schaefer Seafood in Bucktown, agreed that rain and cold can affect supply. But what he’s seeing now is encouraging: “The size is good, real nice size and full of fat — very good quality for the start of the season,’’ he said.

On Thursday, the price at Schaefer’s was $2.80 per pound live and $4 boiled.

At Deanie’s Seafood, also in Bucktown, the price at its market on Saturday was $3.79 per pound boiled and $3.10 live, according to Chandra Chifici. She said that while crawfish are available as early as November, Deanie’s doesn’t start selling them that soon because they want to wait until they reach good size. While consumers do buy them at this time of year, March and April is when the demand peaks, she said.

But Chifici doesn’t discern any real difference between the farmed crawfish being sold now and the wild-caught crawfish that comes into its own later in the spring.

“When it’s all said and done, it’s how they’re cooked,’’ she said.