Drought takes devastating toll on Louisiana’s crawfish industry

Drought takes devastating toll on Louisiana’s crawfish industry

Lafayette, Louisiana — Cracking and peeling is serious business in the South this time of year because it’s crawfish season.

But the crustation that looks like a tiny lobster and tastes like a salty combination of shrimp and crab has been hard to find this year because of a devastating drought. The shortage has meant crawfish is pricier.

Cajun Table is one of the few restaurants in the heart of Creole country that has supply.

“Very, very slow start,” Sean Suire, owner of Cajun Table and a lifelong crawfish farmer, told CBS News of the crawfish season. “I’ve never seen the drastic decrease in crawfish like I’ve seen this year.” 

Harvesting his own fields is the only reason Suire has crawfish, but not nearly enough. He learned from his father on 350 acres of crawfish farmland.

“What we’re bringing in now is about seven to eight sacks, and we’re running 4,000 cages,” Suire said. “So what we normally would be bringing in right now is at least 30 to 40 sacks.”

Suire says that’s less than 20% of his normal haul. He took CBS News out on his boat to see what that looks like. Normally, cages would hold dozens of crawfish. But today there are only a handful. He rebaits the cage, hoping for better luck on the next pass.

One of the driest seasons on record last year means the harvest field didn’t get enough rain. Weeks of triple-digit heat sent the crustaceans burrowing deeper into the mud, many unable to emerge.

“Last year at this time we were selling crawfish for $2.75 a pound,” Scott Broussard, whose Arcadia Crawfish Company is one of the nation’s largest crawfish wholesalers, told CBS News.

This year, though, Broussard says his crawfish are selling for $10 per pound.

In a normal year, Broussard’s company is shipping millions of crawfish. But now his massive plant is at a virtual standstill with delivery trucks idle. A refrigerated room, usually packed with thousands of sacks of crawfish, is down to a few dozen.  

“It’s going to hurt our local economy unconditionally,” Brossard said. “This industry produces over $300 million a year for our local farmers in economy here. We’re going to be less than 10% of that.”

Anthony Arceneaux has owned Hawk’s Crawfish for 42-years. The lines to get in are legendary, and Hawk’s is open only in crawfish season, from roughly January through June. On a busy night during normal crawfish season, some 400 people would pack the place, chowing down on 2,000 pounds of crawfish. But so far this season his restaurant remains closed.

“Probably not till the end of march, hopefully, possibly April,” Arceneaux said of when his restaurant might open.

“If I got every crawfish in the state right now, it wouldn’t be enough,” Arceneaux added.

Experts say hotter summers will likely continue, and researchers at Louisiana State University are studying the impact of climate change on crawfish production. 

Suire says this year, crawfishing feels like more of a hobby than a business as costs exceed the catch.

“I may not see the kind of supply that we need until May, June, until the season’s over,” Suire responded when asked when he expects to see the supply he needs.

This is a lifestyle he loves, but love doesn’t pay the bills. He hopes the end of the season will.

“Hopefully, this last few months will account for what we missed out on the first few,” Suire said. “I’m just remaining hopeful.”

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