Some things just go better together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Oreos and milk. And Carnival Season and crawfish! Carnival Season, a.k.a. Mardi Gras, brings us together for festivals and fun but also offers us food like king cake and crawfish. By January, many have started planning how to snag a sack full of crawfish and a slew of friends and let the good times boil. Typically, your only concern is buying too much crawfish to feed your crowd, but this year, crawfish farmers are seeing a significant shortage of Louisiana’s favorite boiled shellfish.
Crawfish isn’t a Mississippi crop. Most Mississippians get their mudbug fix from hard-working farmers in Louisiana. Although Mississippi doesn’t farm crawfish at a high level, the low supply all around will impact our suppliers, restaurants, and consumers like you. Dennis Riecke is a Certified Fisheries Professional with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. Before moving to Mississippi, Riecke worked at the Louisiana Research and Experiment Station and understands the weather’s effects on our neighbor’s crawfish crop.
Riecke says that good ole’ supply and demand is the biggest culprit to this year’s crawfish prices. “The supply is being impacted by the drought that we had last year,” shared Riecke.
In Louisiana, a common way to grow crawfish is in rice fields. Rice farmers flood their rice paddies, plant their crops, and then all rice sprouts from the inundated paddies. Rice eventually gets tall enough to shade the water and help slow evaporation. Rice fields prove to be an ideal type of habitat for crawfish. Crawfish are introduced into the fields at this time and allowed to multiply and grow. The rice plants provide an excellent shelter and mimic a wetland breeding habitat for the crawfish. The waste produced by the crawfish helps fertilize the soil for the next rice planting season. It can be an absolute win, win!
After farmers take the water off rice fields and harvest the rice in late summer, the crawfish burrow into the ground and remain until they sense water over them again. “When water returns, crawfish dig out and hang out in ponds looking for food,” shared Riecke. “That’s when farmers harvest the shellfish.” Not all crawfish are farmed, some are harvested in the natural waters of the Atchafalaya Basin. Crawfish harvest season lasts from November to mid-May. “Once the water temperatures get too hot, crawfish burrow back into the ground again, ending the season,” explained Riecke.
“The 2023 drought impacted the survival of the crawfish in the burrows,” shared Riecke. “And the wild harvest of the Atchafalaya Basin starts in March and may be delayed due to the colder water temperatures, but that is yet to be determined.”
Limited supply will mean higher prices for suppliers, restaurants, and you and me. You won’t want to wait around if you hear someone bringing crawfish sacks to town; they will go fast. You will want to pack your patients with the prices from your favorite suppliers and local restaurants. If you’re priced out at the start of the season, hang tight. “Prices usually drop as you go through the season,” shared Riecke. “Crawfish can still get cheaper as we get closer to Spring.”
Despite the higher prices, it still supports the farmers by supporting Mississippi suppliers and restaurants. Like any crop, farmers depend on the sale to pay their bills and put forth the effort to bring about a harvest the following year, with prayers for better weather conditions for a more bountiful crop. So, whether you call them crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs, ditchbugs, freshwater lobsters, mountain lobsters, or yabbies, make sure you take into consideration the circumstances of this year’s pricing and support your favorite local spots to pinch, peel, eat, and repeat.