Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Crawfish Season Under Pressure

The Times-Picayune ran a piece March 24, 2008, about this year's crawfish market. Many pond farmers are considering draining their fields early this year, even though the height of the season has arrived, in order to plant crops of rice and soybeans. It's expected that basin fishers will take up the slack in production. Key issues affecting this year's anticipated yield are rising costs in fuel and bait, a later start to the peak of the season and an earlier-than-usual Easter. also pinpoints bad weather earlier in Easter week that displaced traps, causing farmers to fall behind in production. Andre Leger, owner of Chez Francois Seafood had to stop taking orders the morning of Good Friday, but resumed in the afternoon after receiving more of the crustaceans:
Leger said crawfish farmers usually work their ponds intensely for three days before Good Friday to meet the high demand, but near tropical storm-strength winds earlier this week frustrated the harvest.

“We just never caught up,” he said.

According to Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, the crawfish is a late-comer to the culinary stage. Cookbooks from the late 1800s and early 1900s mainly used crawfish in bisque. It was not till the 1960s that crawfish came into its own.

Gretchell Soileau Spears at her homepage has a short piece on crawfish which sheds further light on the development of commercial crawfishing. Initially an incidental catch, the 1940s saw the development of a commercial fishery dedicated to crawfish at the Atchafalaya Basin. Researchers at LSU began to experiment with the cultivation of crawfish in man-made ponds in the 1960s. Since that time, 75 million to 110 million pounds of mudbugs are harvested annually.

Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook rightly places crawfish as one of Louisiana's top exports as well as one of the state's top industries. Oversea demands for the crawfish centers on France, Sweden and large swatches of Asia. In Sweden, where the crawfish is steamed whole and flavored with dill, four to five million of the crustacean are imported annually.

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