William R. Mcclain, Schultz, Bruce | 4/22/2005 1:29:04 AM
Louisiana crawfish farmers are producing an abundant crop this year – although an abundant supply generally means more smaller crawfish, according to Dr. Ray McClain, LSU AgCenter aquaculture professor.
"When they’re crowded, they’re not going to get as big, but can still be excellent quality," McClain said.
In general, this time of year crawfish are growing rapidly, so their thin shells are easy to peel and they are full of meat, McClain said. "Right now, they’re ideal eating crawfish," he said.
Near the end of the season, the number of large, quality crawfish will decline as food supplies run out, McClain said. The shells also will thicken and make them harder to peel, he said.
Iota crawfish farmer Gerard Frey said regular rainfall has helped maintain good water quality.
"The supply is pretty good," Frey said, adding, "Prices are a little lower, but catch-wise, we’re where we need to be."
Frey said processors are in operation now, and they are buying up the smaller crawfish.
Crawfish fields are more numerous in the Louisiana areas where rice is grown, McClain said.
"We’ve got as much or more acreage as we’ve ever had," McClain said. "People have turned to crawfish as an important component of their farming operation."
In 1988, the acreage devoted to crawfish farming peaked at 132,000 acres, but much of that was in low-yielding large ponds that didn’t produce well, according to McClain.
Now he said a large portion of the acreage is made up of fields that are in a rice rotation system.
Mark Shirley, an LSU AgCenter aquaculture agent, said March and April usually are the peak months of production for crawfish. Shirley also said it’s difficult to pin down a price at this point.
"The price depends on who’s buying, who’s selling and where you are," Shirley said. "Crawfish is a good value whether you eat them at home or in a restaurant."
Several crawfish kiosks have sprung up around South Louisiana in small buildings that allow customers to drive through to pick up just a few pounds of freshly boiled crawfish.
"They’re young and tender, and they’re high-yielding crawfish," Shirley said, explaining that each crawfish is producing a larger amount of meat.
A large portion of Louisiana’s crawfish is consumed in the state and in the nearby market of Houston, he said.
"The volume of crawfish needs to expand beyond the traditional areas," Shirley said.
Crawfish production is part of a diverse aquaculture industry in the state, which also includes catfish, oysters and other commodities. In 2004, those industries meant more than $212 million to the state’s economy and were part of more than $10.7 billion in economic impact from the state’s agricultural industries, according to the Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources published by the LSU AgCenter.