by Kari Beal
Crawfish season delayed, but critter fans don’t fret just yet
The cold weather is taking its toll on a Louisiana delicacy. Farmers tell us crawfish are hiding from the cold, and that means less on our plates. The big question now: when will the mudbugs be back? Turns out Mother Nature is the deciding factor.
“I have never seen it this bad,” says Stephen Minvielle, the Director of the Louisiana Crawfish Research and Promotion Board and Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association. “In the past years, you get one or two cold days, but not extended weeks on and on like this.”
Minvielle picked up his traps this morning and had five crawfish at most in a trap. On a 70 degree day, he’ll see about 50. He said a combination of freezing rain and low temperatures are putting a halt on this season’s harvest.
“When it sleets like this it’s like taking warm water in a glass and pouring cold water into it. It’s going to change the temperature a bit or quite a bit,” said Minvielle.
He said research shows sleet causes water temperatures to drop 50 percent faster than cold air flowing over the water. This means the juicy, red critters we all love stay deep underground, hiding for the weather.
“They slow down dramatically,” said Minvielle. “We can bait them and sing to them, but they’re not going to get in the traps.”
He said the cold weather is also a concern for crawfish babies who are trying to grow. Usually it takes 90 days for a baby crawfish to grow to medium size, but in the cold it can take twice as long.
However, there is still hope. Minvielle said it’s been a good rain season. If temperatures warm up by the start of peak crawfish season, which is usually the end of February, our anxious fingers and hungry mouths can still dig into a steamy Cajun feast.
By Patrick D. Bonin
It’s the third week of June here in south Louisiana, and the dog days of summer are already upon us. High temperatures hover in the mid-90s, with lows only dipping into the mid-70s.
It’s hot. Really hot!
And the crawfish crop is already feeling the adverse effects.
“The season is winding down to the end. We’re already picking up the traps in some of the fields that just aren’t producing anymore,” said Mark Frugé, co-owner of Frugé Aquafarms in Branch, La. “We’re trying to continue production as long as it’s profitable. I’d say we might have another couple of weeks to go.”
He estimated about 80 percent of the farm’s crawfish ponds are still in production, thanks in large part to the drenching rains we experienced in
April and May.
“The recent rain activity has helped out. It supplied the ponds with additional water that otherwise we’d have had to pump, and at this point in the season it’s just not profitable to maintain them by pumping,” Frugé said. “You won’t get your return back. So basically we just fish until there’s no more water, then we shut it down.”
Although still relatively plentiful, the crawfish being harvested now are smaller than they were earlier in the spring.
“The size has gone down simply because the food source (rice stubble) has almost been expended,” he said. “Crawfish production pr
etty much follows a bell curve, with March, April and May being the peak months. It tails off both ways from that peak, and that’s where we are right now.”
The good news for crawfish lovers is that it looks like we have a couple of good weeks remaining for this year’s harvest.
“Typically we try to make deliveries for the Fourth of July weekend,” he said. “This year we’re speculating about maybe going an extra week or so beyond that, but it’s really day by day at this point.”
Better news is that the process of stocking next year’s crawfish ponds was completed this week, so those mudbugs will be hunkering down beneath the rice fields next month to begin their months-long hibernation to escape the summer heat. But they’ll return next fall with their young, and the 2013-14 crawfish harvest will begin anew.
For crawfish lovers everywhere, that can’t come soon enough!
By Patrick D. Bonin
As we begin to transition into the full heat of summer here in south Louisiana, the weather in our region continues to be active and of interest.
Storm systems moving across the central plains are projected to be potentially volatile again this week. Last Monday, on May 20th, an EF5 tornado devastated Moore, Oklahoma, a southern suburb of Oklahoma City.
Twenty-four people, including 10 children, died as a result of the tornado, which destroyed an incredible 12-13,000 homes and impacted more than 30,000 residents. With peak winds at 210 M.P.H., the tornado touched down at 2:56 p.m. local time in Newcastle and stayed on the ground for 39 minutes over a 17-mile path, ultimately crossing over a heavily populated section in Moore.
And on Saturday, flash flooding in San Antonio, Texas left two people dead and required first responders to rescue more than 200 residents trapped in vehicles and houses.
According to Internet reports, almost 10 inches of rain fell at San Antonio International Airport from midnight to mid-afternoon Saturday, causing nearly all local streams and rivers to experience extraordinary flooding.
Here in south Louisiana, heat is definitely ramping up, but climatologically at least, it has been unseasonably cool with above-average rainfall for April and May.
“That’s definitely a positive for the crawfish,” said Mark Frugé, co-owner of Frugé Aquafarms. “When water temperatures escalate, the crawfish will burrow underground. I don’t know the exact trigger temperature when that happens, but when it gets into the 90s on a regular basis, the end of the season is nearing.”
Current conditions, though, have benefitted the mudbugs, he said.
“It makes for more favorable production right now, with higher volume than usual for late May,” he said.
Typically, as the heat increases through June, the harvest will decline as the month progresses. Usually, depending on what Mother Nature has in store, we try to harvest through the end of June.
“As soon as it gets too hot, the fishermen don’t see the necessary return on their expense to pump water into the crawfish ponds,” he said. “Production just gradually tails off until we shut it down for another year.”
So just like with the start of the harvest in January, Mother Nature and the crawfish themselves will determine when the 2013 mudbug season officially comes to a close. Keep your fingers (and pincers) crossed for at least one more good month to go!
Not necessarily. Many factors play a role in the wrap up of the crawfish harvest, including water quality and temperature. If we experience a milder-than-usual May and early June, the harvest could continue a bit longer than normal. But if May gets really hot and June is even hotter, the mudbugs will usually burrow down below the ponds and effectively end the season. We can tell pretty quickly by working the traps daily when the catch starts to diminish. But only Mother Nature and the crawfish themselves know when the season will officially end. Every year we try to make it through the end of June, but we keep our customers posted as it winds down.
If we have available crawfish, we’ll give it our best try! The crawfish themselves really determine how long the season lasts: it all depends on how hot our south Louisiana summer cranks up. If it gets hotter earlier, many times the crawfish will burrow down and become harder to catch, effectively ending the season. But if the heat holds off and the water quality in our ponds remains strong, the season could go all the way through June. Only Mother Nature and the mudbugs themselves know exactly when the season will end!
Question & Answer: Since you farm your own crawfish, can you ship year round or are you still constrained by the season?
Unfortunately, just like other crops, crawfish have a very definite season when they’re available to harvest. We do have our own farm, but in the intense heat of south Louisiana’s summers, the crawfish burrow down to breed and escape the heat in June and July. They won’t reappear until the fall, and don’t usually reach marketable size until December or January. The season peaks here in south Louisiana in April and May, and usually ends in late June depending on how hot a summer we’re having.
The peak of crawfish season typically runs from late February to late April, barring an especially cold or wet winter. Once May comes around, crawfish usually remain plentiful, but their food supply and the water quality typically begin to diminish as the heat of summer begins to bear down on south Louisiana. Once the heat sets in, the crawfish begin to burrow down into the mud to escape the blazing temperatures and the harvest slowly dwindles.
Actually, Mother Nature and the mudbugs themselves determine the duration of the season!
Here at Frugé Aquafarms, we seed mature crawfish into our rice fields over the summer. Those crawfish breed and burrow down deep beneath the ponds to escape the late-summer heat and the rice harvest, and don’t emerge until the fields are re-flooded in the fall. Those tiny crawfish (the size of ants) feed on the nutrient rich rice stubble and grow into the delicious mudbugs we harvest for the season, which typically starts around November or December.
Unless Mother Nature throws a curve ball with an incredibly wet or cold winter, the best months for Louisiana crawfish are March, April and May. June is usually when the heat of summer starts to crank up, water quality deteriorates and crawfish slowly begin to burrow down to escape the hot temperatures. Crawfish stocking again occurs in that season’s rice fields, and the process starts all over to keep your pot boiling year after year!
By Patrick D. Bonin
BRANCH, LA – It’s official: spring has sprung, and crawfish season is now ramping up into high gear!
Late March, April and early May typically bring nice weather with pleasant temperatures, ideal conditions for all the mudbugs that have been steadily growing in our ponds since emerging from below ground last fall.
With a solid supply of rice stubble still remaining in prime water conditions, daily harvests are now yielding some large, physically mature mudbugs.
“The environment plays a large role in determining how big a crawfish will be at maturity, and right now conditions are pretty much as good as they can get,” said Mark Frugé, co-owner of Frugé Aquafarms. “Springtime temperatures are ideal, and they still have a good food supply left out there. They are extremely active, and we have a lot of mature crawfish in the ponds. ”
While some physically mature crawfish peak on the small side, Frugé said variations in individual crawfish sizes can also be attributed to their age. That’s because last fall, all of the female crawfish with their young didn’t emerge into the ponds at exactly the same time.
“The crawfish are not all the same age, because the young aren’t disbursed at exactly the same time,” he said. “They might be all close to the same age, but they still have lots of smaller, younger crawfish out there that haven’t reached physical maturity yet.”
That allows for really nice crawfish later in the season. Although as spring transitions into summer and the water temperature steadily increases, Frugé said the heat negatively impacts the harvest.
“As it gets hotter, temperatures start to work against the crawfish and the yield steadily decreases, but that doesn’t typically happen until June,” he said. “Right now, the crawfish are “clawed out” with some really big claws: they look impressive. And the shells aren’t too hard yet, so it doesn’t get much better than this.”
According to the Louisiana Crawfish Production Manual from the LSU AgCenter, a variety of factors can influence the harvest from day to day. Water temperature, crawfish density, molting patterns, weather and even the phase of the moon can play a part in determining the daily catch, according to LSU.
“I can tell you that crawfish are very similar to fish,” Frugé said. “If the barometric pressure is correct and the wind is correct, the fish will bite. And then everything can change overnight, and the next day they won’t bite. The same is true for crawfish.”
So progress is steady now on the farm, with great days and with good days, rain or shine. All of the hard work and preparation that started last summer when this year’s ponds were seeded with crawfish are being realized with the 2013 harvest.
“It’s wide open right now,” Frugé said. “We’ll be fishing every day as long as the market deems it necessary.”
We get this question all the time, and it’s usually followed by more similar questions, such as –
When is crawfish season? Is it a legal season? When is the best time for crawfish? Are the crawfish big yet? When do they get big?
There is no legal season but one driven by mother nature. In south Louisiana the farm raised season generally starts somewhere around mid-December. Of course we have seen years where we had product in commercial quantities for Thanksgiving or earlier. In general, though, the early crop tends to be sporadic, and the catch can double, drop in half, or even go dormant depending on weather.
Water temperature and hours of sunlight are the two big drivers of an early season crawfish. Without getting too technical, extended periods of temperatures in the 30’s will cause crawfish to be inactive and sluggish; therefore the catch will suffer. Extended temperatures below that can begin to kill crawfish and even severely damage the entire crop for the season.
I’m not sure there is a “normal” season, as every season we have had for the past 30 years has been slightly different. On average things on the farm get going in early December and reach a peak somewhere about mid-March. Things then remain steady through mid to late May and tail off into July.
So, the best time for crawfish is springtime when water temperatures start getting into the sixties. The crawfish get very active at this point and are shedding shells (molting) and growing rapidly. During the rapid growth period they have tender green shells. They are easy to peel and in my opinion, it’s the absolute best time to eat them. They are sweet and full…oh boy, just thinking about them makes me think I’ll boil some this weekend! In Louisiana this usually happens somewhere around mid-February and continues throughout the full season.
Are the crawfish big yet? By mid-March the first, early born crawfish start to mature out and put on their final shell. The males start growing huge claws, and the females’ tails tend to get bigger than the males. If you have studied them over time you will easily recognize the difference. Of course if you haven’t, simply flip them over on their backs and look at their bellies. It is pretty obvious. Anyway, mid-March is the best time for large crawfish. From this point on, until the season ends or food supply runs out, crawfish are the biggest they will get. So, the best time of year for big crawfish is mid-March to mid-May. Crawfish get big in March and stay that way until late May until the size starts falling again.
Our goal every year is to have live crawfish available for the Superbowl through the 4th of July. So that usually makes it easy to remember. Superbowl to the 4th.
Not to confuse this any further, but I think I need to address a few other “seasons”. There are “other” crawfish seasons…remember it’s all about water temps. What I just described above is the farm raised season of south Louisiana. There is a wild Louisiana crawfish crop, primarily from the Atchafalaya Basin, but also from all river basins down here. It is truly a wild crop in all senses. Wild and crazy is more like it. It’s is driven by water temps but also by rising and falling river stages.
That rise and fall of the river depends on rainfall and snow melt all the way to Illinois. This rise and fall can be swift and dramatic. The catch can be huge for weeks and then stop in days. It’s hard to predict and plan for. On good years, the wild crop season can last much longer than the farm raised crop, and we do supplement our crawfish production with wild catch. I have seen several exceptional years where the wild crop went on year round. Again – it’s all about water temps. The wild crop has the advantage of a “potential” tremendous volume of “free” cold deep water. When mother nature cooperates it can be amazing. When she doesn’t the whole crop can be missed.
So what else? Well, there is a short season of California crawfish. These crawfish are harvested out of the rice fields of northern California, which are north of Sacramento. This crop is not really a crop but considered a tremendous pest for the rice farmers up there. Imagine that! The crawfishermen up there are a small group who get permission to set traps in the rice fields. Some of these crawfish make it into the market from July through September. There are a few enterprising people trying to organize the industry, and someday I wouldn’t be surprised to see a stable supply coming out of there.
There are literally crawfish seasons everywhere. I’ve heard of people making an annual trek to a lake in the mountains of Colorado and people catching crawfish in every stream in the world. There are Yabby crawfish from Australia and Signal crawfish from the Pacific Northwest. But, to my knowledge, there is no place else like south Louisiana for the abundance, consistency, and most importantly, dependability.