Crawfish are beginning to show up on the market, but the size is small to medium ' not what locals prefer when they go out to eat.
Choate operates as a broker, buying crawfish for Cajun Claws and selling the surplus to other restaurants. Typically he buys from fishermen whose ponds are located around Henry, Mouton Cove and Forked Island, all spots hard hit by Rita's storm surge. Ted Noel, one of Choate's suppliers, has 200 acres of ponds in Perry, south of Abbeville. About 30 percent of his ponds had some degree of inundation from Rita, although Noel says it didn't result in a high degree of salinity. Nevertheless, his ponds aren't producing normally.
"Things have been kind of mysterious since the storm," he says. "We had great indicators that this would be a good season, but we haven't been catching."
Historically, there was a short crawfish season in November, then harvesting began in earnest in January. Noel was in the processing business for 10 years until 1992, before he began farming himself. "In those years [when he was processing], I could count on opening on November 15." Once he began farming, he says his ponds routinely began producing in late December for the January season. "Now, things seem to be two months or more behind," he says. "We're going into February, and the catch is not strong. It's barely worth fishing. If it weren't for the high restaurant price, it wouldn't be worth fishing."
Restaurants pay significantly higher than processors because they are looking for a superior product to put on the table. Wholesalers may pay $1 per pound for a sack of crawfish, but restaurants that want select crawfish are likely to pay double that price, which helps farmers struggling to meet costs for labor, bait and freshwater pond pumping during dry spells.
Choate hand-selects his crawfish and is quick to differentiate between big crawfish and select crawfish. The difference, he says, is quality, which does not necessarily mean only size. "There's no count on it, like with shrimp." Shrimp is graded by size and weight; the fewer shrimp per pound, the bigger the shrimp. For example, a 10-15 count signifies jumbo shrimp, while there's no such grade for crawfish, which are eyeballed as small, medium or big. "What you're looking for is the cleanness and the softness of the shell. A big young crawfish is tender. It's got a lot of fat, and it's better quality," Choate says. "If they're black and stained up, I don't put them on the dinner table."
Abbeville-based LSU Ag Center aquacultural specialist Mark Shirley says the January rains will produce a flood of crawfish by high season, March and April, as the water warms up. Hurricane Rita affected about 5,000 out of 100,000 acres of ponds in Louisiana. "Some of these ponds are recovering and will produce a limited amount of crawfish this year," Shirley predicts. "The rain has helped flush out the residual salt. Conditions are more favorable for rice [a companion crop with crawfish], as well."
But Noel isn't convinced. Seventy percent of his ponds weren't flooded by Rita, and he isn't seeing crawfish in those ponds either. "We used to think we were right on cycle. Since the storm, none of that is seemingly the same. We're scratching our heads." Last year, in the season following Rita, Noel's ponds didn't produce until after February. "After Easter, there were no big crawfish, just little babies. Our catch fell to a quarter of what it was before Easter, and made it not worth fishing."
Normally once high temperatures set in June, the crawfish dig into the mud and hold over until October, a cycle Noel says is called "recruitment." Last year, the crawfish started burrowing in April. "So many burrowed in that we thought, man, it's going to be gangbusters [this year]," Noel remembers.
In the summer, crawfish farmers plant rice in their paddies as food for their crawfish crop. Fields are flooded lightly in September and October. The water draws the crawfish out of the ground, and they breed. This October, Noel says he saw a lot of holes and chimneys open up as his recruitment came out to breed. That was the indicator LSU has used as a predictor for a good crawfish crop. Another indicator is muddy water in January, a sign of activity. "My water looks like chocolate milk," Noel says, "but there aren't many crawfish."
Noel speculates that his recruitment struggled with the salt residue, making them less fertile. The long cold wet spells of December and January might also be contributing to the dearth of crawfish. And Noel says he is still seeing fresh holes right now, meaning crawfish are just emerging to breed. "We thought it was going to continue year after year. After the storm, it's different. Is it the storm? Is it global warming?" he wonders.
The entire industry is hoping that the season will catch up by March and there will be enough crawfish to meet springtime demand. Meanwhile, farmers and restaurateurs are anxiously watching the weather. "We're missing sunshine in this recipe," concludes Dwight Breaux.
Mike Harson's coffers show the advantage of incumbency.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will vote on an ordinance for final adoption Tuesday that, if approved, would give the city the green light to take over a stretch of Verot School Road from the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The Louisiana Association of Educators filed a lawsuit challenging the $60 million in spending through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
He's been out of office for nearly a decade, but former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is back on the campaign trail, urging voters to support his one-time colleague, Democrat Mary Landrieu.
The unresolved fate of the ashes left behind after Ebola waste was destroyed in Texas highlights the problem U.S. hospitals and communities could face in disposing of their own waste.
While much of the talk was about whether New Orleans could win a big game — or any game, for that matter — on the road, the conversation in the Saints' locker room was about something completely different.
State health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.
Compared to the rest of the country, Lafayette has it pretty good when it comes to the cost and speed of our Internet.
Hello Kitty turns 40; police ambush suspect caught; Knicks surprise Cavs and more national and international news for Friday, October 31, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.