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Product Spotlight: Crawfish

In Louisiana, the major U.S. producer, price and supply are at Mother Nature's mercy

Boiled crawfish is a favorite of aficionados, who cook
    the fresh-caught mudbugs live. - Photo courtesy of S.A. Harris, La. Seafood
By Linda Skinner
August 01, 2006

Louisiana is famous for its crawfish, ce lebrated in crawfish boils, po' boy sandwiches, étouffée and jambalaya. In fact, the state produces 90 percent of total U.S. "mudbug" landings from two native commercial species: red swamp crawfish ( Procambatus clarkii ), accounting for 70 to 80 percent of the supply, and white river crawfish ( P. zonangulus ).

Roughly half of the state's production is farmed, in rotation with rice, in ponds created by flooding agricultural lands. The proportion of farmed to wild varies, but farming is on the rise as conditions for wild crawfish deteriorate, says Ray McClain, a professor of aquaculture at the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center's Rice Research Station in Crowley, La.

This year, he notes, there's virtually no wild harvest, and "unofficial projections" for pond production are down anywhere from 30 to 60 percent from the 73.8 million pounds harvested in the 2004-05 season, which was a good one. McClain says the infamous hurricanes had less impact on crawfish than drought conditions last summer and fall, which decimated wild stocks. Storm surge from the hurricanes put thousands of acres of ponds out of production early in the current season, delaying farmed supply.

The harvest season for both farmed and wild crawfish can start as early as November and run into July. There's no "typical" price, says McClain; it hinges on time of year, size and supply, and there are many variables with this critter. Big (10- to 12-count jumbos), young crawfish are most desirable, since the shell hardens with maturity. A premium specimen, says McClain, would be "large, young, easy-to-peel and free of defects." These criteria contribute to the price fluctuations.

Most crawfish are sold live in 40-pound bags, in season. If demand dwindles and prices hold, crawfish are processed and sold as fresh or frozen tail meat, usually with the fat left on for enhanced flavor. For longer shelf life, tails can be ordered with the fat washed off for a slightly higher price.

Mudbugs are integral to Cajun country cuisine. At Voleo's Seafood Restaurant in Lafitte, La., the SDLq special night time menu" features an appetizer of Crawfish Enchiladas with Green Chili Sauce for $6. For an entrée, there's Shrimp & Crawfish Pasta for $14.95.

Acme Oyster and Seafood House, with locations in New Orleans, Metairie and Covington, menus boiled crawfish from December to July, seasonally priced. The restaurant also offers Crawfish Étouffée, a robust local favorite seasoned in a buttery roux with plump Louisiana crawfish tails over rice, at $7.99 for small, $12.99 for large (add fried catfish tails for $3.99) and a crawfish-tail po' boy for $8.99. Fried crawfish tails are $7.99 as an appetizer.


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