The winter brought an ice storm and multiple days of freezing temperatures to south Louisiana, which had an impact on crawfish season across the state.
Prices are a bit higher than they have been in years previous, but now local restaurants and crawfish farmers are finally catching up to speed.
According to a poll on crawfish prices by WBRZ, the cost for live crawfish is about $4.77 per pound on average. The highest price for boiled at popular sellers was $6, while live crawfish can go for as low as $3.99 per pound.
Mitch Hopkins, the owner of local crawfish restaurant Crawfish on the Geaux, said it was an unusual year for crawfish farmers and restaurant owners.
“The ice storm halted the catch of crawfish for about a week, so they weren’t catching any at all,” Hopkins said. “A lot of fishermen just weren’t fishing or collecting crawfish at all because it was too cold.”
Sleet and freezing rain fell across southern Louisiana during the winter, with some areas reporting accumulations of ice. The University closed campus Feb. 15 because of the conditons brought by the storm, and classes remained canceled throughout the week. With south Louisiana usually seeing mild winters with little to no freezing precipitation, this unusual weather impacted the early stages of crawfish season.
“It was hard to get enough crawfish, and there were several days where we couldn’t get any at all,” Hopkins said. “It took about a week and a half to two weeks to recover from that. It’s just now starting to get back to how it was before the freeze.”
While the supply of crawfish began to dwindle, Hopkins said his restaurant was able to avoid raising prices because it was able to rebound just in time before the season kicked into high gear.
“There was like a two to three week drop in supply and the size was down a little bit as well,” he said. “The price didn’t go up due to the freeze. I guess the demand wasn’t there. The storm didn’t hit during the heart of the season, it was toward the beginning.”
Hopkins said his restaurant avoided the plummeting sales due to the pandemic that some businesses experienced.
“For us, we’re takeout only, or you could even call us a food truck,” he said. “We haven’t really seen any gain from the pandemic, but we haven’t seen much of a decrease in sales either, so it’s kind of been as steady as it was before coronavirus entered Baton Rouge.”
While the restaurant industry felt the impacts of a harsh Louisiana winter, the crawfish farming industry felt those impacts even harder.
Matthew Garrett Frey, owner of Four Oaks Farm in Morganza, said the ice storm had a huge impact on the amount of crawfish that they usually sell.
He said his farm helps provide crawfish to different restaurants across Baton Rouge.
“I can’t act like this has never happened before,” Frey said. “About five years ago, the snow and all of that, man, that one year, shucks, it was tough on me.”
Frey acknowledged that the ice storm set his crawfish farm back about three weeks.
For Frey, his concern wasn’t that the crawfish would die,.He was scared that his season would be delayed due to the crawfish seeking protection from the ice, he said.
“It’s nothing to do with crawfish not being able to handle the cold,” Frey said. “They can handle the cold. That isn’t the problem. It’s like anything else, they go into something similar to hibernation.”
He said when it comes to crawfish surviving the cold, it gets complicated.
Frey, who has years of experience with crawfish, said that for the most part, the crawfish do whatever they can to protect themselves in the quickest way possible.
“They don’t necessarily bury,” Frey said. “Everybody says, ‘oh they go underground,’ but they actually use whatever they can cover up with. Believe it or not, they do cover themselves. They’ll crawl under anything that can protect them and help them stay warm. Closer to the ground, that is. It gives them some protection.”
Frey said that in the thick of cold, some will manage to go under the surface.
“Now do they go underground? Some of them do,” he said. “That’s what they naturally want to do but they don’t bury. They’ll find a normal hole and back in there.”
The ice storm, which not only hit Louisiana, but also caused immense amounts of damage throughout Texas, killed a lot of sensitive vegetation and fauna. According to a story published by KVUE, residents of Padre Island removed thousands of pounds of dead fish from canals and beaches.
It was a different story for crawfish in Louisiana who had a better survival rate, according to Frey.
“Those crawfish, I don’t think we lost any,” he said. “I’ve heard all kinds of people talking about thinking they died.”
It wasn’t dead crawfish which impacted the season, it was the crawfish fighting for their lives which slowed things down.
He said some farmers managed to have a successful season. For him and his crew on the other hand, they found themselves in the thick of the storm, which there was nothing they could do about.
“There’s other farmers that have done very well,” Frey said. “But it’s the way that I’m doing it and all of that.”