Feb 21, 2010 10:59 PM
Earlier this year, Crawfish farmers expected heavy rains to bring a bountiful harvest, but that was before periods of subfreezing temperatures pushed the mud bugs back into their holes.
Now producers wonder if early projections of a strong crop will pan out. And some restaurant owners are having a hard time keeping up with customers' hunger for crawfish.
Except for a good showing around Thanksgiving, the supply of crawfish has not kept pace with demand.
"There were the swamis and fortune tellers who were projecting a banner crop," said Stephen Minvielle, who farms about 80 acres of crawfish ponds near New Iberia. "It's like trying to bet on the stock market. It just shows that as humans we think we are in control of everything else around us, but we're not."
Minvielle, who is director of the Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association, said his harvest for early February was a little less than half what it was last year at that time, a trend he said has been reported by other farmers in the state.
"The harvest is very weak. Definitely worse than last year, and last year was not a good year," said Church Point crawfish farmer David Savoy, who oversees about 1,700 acres of ponds.
At Dax on Verot in Lafayette, where owner Charlie Shank dishes out to-go orders of boiled crawfish, it's been a struggle to keep up with demand.
"I'm getting enough to sell, but I'm not getting the volume," Shank said. "It's all because of the freeze. They're just not there. I'm paying more than I've ever paid."
Crawfish can still be found - for a price - and a few days of warm weather could quickly turn things around.
"We are going to have a season," Savoy said. "It just looks like it's getting off to a slow start."
In the Atchafalaya Basin, however, where almost all of the wild crawfish in the state are harvested, the mood is a bit brighter.
Henderson crawfish trapper Jody Meche said he began fishing the first week of November, the earliest he has brought in good catches in several years.
"There was early water and a lot of good signs of plentiful crawfish," he said. "All indicators are pointing to a good season in the Basin."
The Basin normally does not see a significant rise in water levels until the spring, when the snow melts in the north.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)