Despite a great crop of mudbugs last year, COVID-19 restrictions crippled the industry as a whole; restaurants were slapped with COVID mandates, and packaging the crustaceans to-go was difficult. Last March, crawfish producer Gerard Frey of Acadia Parish told the LSU AgCenter they were only able to sell 10 to 20% of what they caught.
Then, the hurricanes came. During the summer of 2020, Hurricane Laura damaged 5,000 acres of crawfish ponds, according to the Daily Advertiser. The disruption of the delicate life cycle of the mudbugs had, up until last week's freeze, resulted in smaller catches.
Then, the great freeze came, and now crawfish farmers and suppliers wait with bated breath for the thaw.
Mike Fruge is the president of Fruge Seafood Co. in Branch, Louisiana. They supply local restaurants, like Fish City and Half Shells, with their seasonal loot. Last Friday, Fruge stood at the edge of a crawfish pond and gave an update via Facebook. He reported that the catch had already been down 60 to 70% before the big freeze.
"The bigger concern is whether or not we had a kill. We just won’t know that until about two weeks from now. I’m optimistic we didn’t have that, but we just don’t know. If the water temperatures stayed too cold for too long, it’s possible that it killed crawfish on the bottom of the pond," Fruge said.
Diane Drew with Cajun Gourment Crawfish in Sugar Land, just outside of Houston, confirms the future of crawfish season is in the air.
“It sucks,” she said then laughed loudly in perfect Cajun "laissez les bons temps rouler" form.
She said the season had already gotten off to a slow start, but just before the freeze things had started to pick back up. Traps were filling up. "Then, the freeze came,” Drew told the Observer.
One farmer they work with runs 100 traps and pulled a few out last Thursday and found only three crawfish, which means the mudbugs dug deep into the earth for warmth. As the temperatures warm up, they should emerge to look for food again. “Hopefully, they’re not deceased,” Drew said.
The best-case scenario, Drew explained, is that the season is delayed by a couple of weeks. Crawfish boils are a big traffic driver for restaurants. Many have adapted to creating to-go options, but as the weather warms up, patios could fill-up.
The co-founder and president of Fish City Grill, Bill Bayne, is worried another season will slip through his fingers. He’s anxiously waiting for traps to be pulled in a couple of weeks to see if the crawfish were able to survive the record cold temperatures.
“Last year we sold over 50 tons of crawfish,” Bayne says. “That’s a big amount of sales we hope to be able to replicate this year. Did I mention that our fingers are crossed?!” (Yes, he did.)
Dallas Hale with Shell Shack isn't worried. He says crawfish season is in full swing at his restaurants and is looking forward to National Crawfish Day on April 17, a day Hale actually lobbied to establish. Hopefully, by then all the crawfish will have emerged and the good times will roll on like they always do in Cajun country.
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