Nikki Buskey / Houma Courier
HOUMA — Crawfish could be scarce and expensive for the upcoming Easter weekend, when seafood boils are a cherished tradition for many families.
Crawfish farmers and dealers say an unusually cold, dry winter stunted mudbugs’ growth, and poor crawfish catches in the Atchafalaya Basin are striking another blow to availability.
“The farmers are working at 100-plus percent, and the basin guys haven’t been able to produce a lot,” said Stephen Minvielle, director of the Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association. “We won’t be able to meet 100 percent of the demand, but hopefully most people will be able to get what they need.”
The best bet for those intent on having a Good Friday crawfish boil is to pre-order, if you haven’t done so already, sellers said. It’s too soon to say what prices will be come Friday, retailers said.
Minvielle said his crawfish farm is bringing in about 60 percent of its average catch for this time of year, something he said holds true for many other farmers. The crawfish are also smaller than usual, mostly medium-size.
“There hasn’t been an overload all year,” said Linda Eschete, co-owner of Sea-Go Seafood on Grand Caillou Road in Houma. “In the basin, they’re running small with skinny tails. They’re having to throw them back.”
Crawfish are available throughout the year in Louisiana, but boils are most popular in spring, especially during Lent, when Catholics traditionally eat seafood and avoid meat as a penance on Fridays. Many Cajuns also celebrate Good Friday with a crawfish or seafood boil.
Easter weekend is one of the biggest money-makers for farmers and seafood dealers. The 2011 crawfish season got off to a rough start because of an unusually cold, dry winter. The water is now warming up quickly, which Minvielle and others said could force the crawfish into early hibernation and bring an early end to the season.
“We’ve had a bad season, the worst I’ve seen in 20 years,” said Kyle LeBlanc, owner of Kyle LeBlanc Crawfish Farms in Raceland.
Last year at this time, LeBlanc said he caught an average of 30 sacks a day. He’s averaging six sacks a day now.
LeBlanc said he expects retail prices to start at $2.75 a pound for live crawfish. Eschete predicted prices of about 25 cents a pound less.
Eschete said most of her customers placed Good Friday last week. Many dealers said they will stop taking orders today.
“We do get a lot of people who order ahead,” said Kevin Whitney, owner of Bayou Side Seafood in Houma, adding he’s going to stock the same 250 sacks he sells every year.
But others in the crawfish industry are not as confident.
“A lot, a lot of people are calling. You can tell there’s been a shortage,” Minvielle said. “My advice would be to call early. Most retail fisheries have a deposit you can put down. Don’t wait until the last minute because you ain’t going to get them.”