Charles Lutz, Blanchard, Tobie M. | 6/11/2005 1:04:14 AM
This year’s crawfish harvest is wrapping up, and Louisiana consumers enjoyed another good crawfish season in 2005.
Producers harvested an abundant crop with good quality crawfish, according to the experts.
But LSU AgCenter aquaculture specialist Dr. Greg Lutz said the abundance may be too much of a good thing.
"Our problem is marketing," Lutz explained. "Our producers just don’t have enough channels to move all of their production through."
Louisiana’s crawfish processing industry was well developed in the 1980s and could handle crawfish that didn’t go into the live market.
"Whenever we reached these situations where there was an abundance of crawfish and it couldn’t all move through retail and direct to consumers, a lot of that would be diverted into peeling plants," the LSU AgCenter expert explained.
But in the ‘90s, processing plants began shutting down because of cheap imported tail meat and years of drought in Louisiana that reduced the amount of available crawfish.
Now the processing industry is rebounding slightly – but not enough to handle the plentiful crop seen recently.
"Our industry is at a point where we’ve got to look at expanding markets outside of our state," Lutz stressed.
The LSU AgCenter specialist says many producers try to get an early crop of crawfish, obtain a premium price for them and secure a preferred place in the live market. But that doesn’t always work.
"Based on custom or tradition, a lot of consumers are not really thinking about eating crawfish as early as January or February, but this year they certainly were available," Lutz said.
The crawfish industry is working on marketing initiatives, such as getting consumers interested in crawfish earlier in the season. The industry generates resources to pay for these initiatives by so-called checkoff funds paid by producers when they purchase crawfish baits and sacks.
This year weather conditions were right for an early and good season. The cool spring helped reduce oxygen depletion in crawfish ponds that usually is brought on by warm weather, but it wasn’t so cold that it slowed the growth of the crawfish.
Most crawfish that make it on to consumers’ tables in Louisiana are pond-raised, but there also is a wild crop harvested mainly from the Atchafalaya Basin.
"We’ve had some really nice crawfish come out of the basin," Lutz said. "Not a flood of crawfish, but certainly good availability and a good quality product."
About 60 percent of the crawfish crop is associated with rice production, and those acres moved over to rice a few months ago. Most other ponds are being drained and prepared for growing vegetation that will feed the crawfish next season, but some producers still are fishing their ponds.
"This time of the year we still have a few producers that have crawfish out there and are harvesting," Lutz said. "They’ve got the markets that make economic sense to keep getting crawfish out of their ponds."