Crawfish season has 'slow but promising' start

Published: Feb. 23, 2015 at 1:51 PM CST|Updated: Apr. 24, 2015 at 12:51 PM CDT
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by Craig Gautreaux, LSU AgCenter contributor

ABBEVILLE, La. – When LSU AgCenter and Sea Grant agent Mark Shirley was busy surveying a crawfish pond south of Abbeville recently, he found both good and bad news for connoisseurs of crawfish – cold water, but a healthy supply of very small crawfish.

Shirley said the catch has been slow for the area but not unusual for late winter. He found the pond's water temperature to be 52 degrees, which is cold for cold-blooded animals like crawfish. They typically are not actively feeding under such conditions, which makes crawfish difficult to catch.

Shirley did find a good number of small crawfish. And as spring approaches and brings warmer weather, these crawfish should grow to market size and increase the available supply.

"Right now it looks like we should have a sufficient supply of crawfish on into springtime. It's just right now during Lent when we want a lot of them, it's a little bit in short supply," Shirley said.

Also typical for this time of year is smaller crawfish. But for consumers, Shirley said, this is not necessarily a negative. "Larger crawfish have less percentage of meat because they have big claws and heavier shells," he said. "So if you're looking to get the most meat out of the crawfish, enjoy some of those medium to smaller crawfish."

About 15 percent of a medium-to-small crawfish's body weight is tail meat, Shirley said. This drops to about 12 percent for large crawfish, so it takes about 8 pounds of large crawfish for 1 pound of tail meat. For medium crawfish, it takes about 7 pounds.

Louisiana has about 180,000 acres in crawfish pond production. Last year, nearly 102 million pounds of crawfish were caught in ponds. Louisiana's pond-raised crawfish harvest is supplemented by wild crawfish caught primarily in the Atchafalaya Basin. Last year's wild catch was about 6.5 million pounds.

The majority of pond production comes from fields that grew rice the previous year. The leftover stubble plays an important role for crawfish. "It's important to have some amount of vegetation, organic matter, in that field. That stimulates the whole food chain from little microorganisms all the way up to the crawfish," Shirley said.

A well-managed pond can produce somewhere between 800 to 1,000 pounds of crawfish per acre, Shirley said. From two-thirds to three-quarters of the catch will come during the warmer months of April and May.

While inspecting a trap, Shirley found about one-third of a pound of crawfish. He said when the catch is good, traps will have at least 1 pound of crawfish with some having 2 or more pounds.

In Louisiana, pond production typically begins in late January and will run into June. The wild crawfish season is dependent upon spring floodwaters but usually runs from April through early July.