Louisiana governor issues disaster declaration amid crawfish shortage

Published 3:52 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2024

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VIDALIA, La. — There is hope yet for those wanting that springtime crawfish boil without breaking the bank.

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry issued a disaster declaration on Wednesday to aid crawfish suppliers amid shortages in the industry.

Locally, C&M of Vidalia is advertising $8.99 per pound for boiled or $6 per pound for live crawfish, and that is after a recent price drop. By comparison, the cost at the same time last year was $5.75 per pound for boiled and $3.50 per pound for live crawfish.

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Earlier this season, customers would pay $12.99 per pound for boiled crawfish on a first-come-first-served basis and no call-in orders — and that was if they had the mudbugs available at all.

This price hike was standard across Louisiana as drought in 2023, extreme heat, and saltwater intrusion on the Mississippi River paired with a hard winter freeze all devastated this year’s crawfish harvest.

Landry says the shortage is not only affecting Louisiana’s economy but also “our way of life.”

“All 365,000 crawfish acres in Louisiana have been affected by these conditions,” Landry said in a written statement Wednesday. “That is why I am issuing a disaster declaration. The crawfish industry needs all the support it can get right now.”

Landry’s disaster declaration, which is the legal underpinning that assists in securing federal resources, comes shortly after a request from Louisiana’s congressional delegation seeking to unlock federal aid to help farmers back in their home state.

During a typical year, Louisiana generates anywhere from 175 million to 200 million pounds of crawfish — contributing $500 million to the state’s economy annually, according to the governor’s office.

However, Louisiana, typically one of the wettest states in the country, saw some of its driest conditions in 2023, which dried out the soil where crawfish burrow to lay eggs.

The Louisiana State University’s Agriculture Center estimates the potential losses to the state’s crawfish industry to be nearly $140 million.

“Louisiana’s crawfish industry is more than an economic driver for our state — it is a deep part of our cultural heritage,” said Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Crawfish, which have been harvested commercially in the state since at least the 1800s, are usually plentiful in Louisiana during the late winter and through the spring.

Crawfish boils, which see pounds of the cooked crustaceans poured onto communal tables, are popular during Carnival season and during Lent, when many in heavily Catholic south Louisiana seek alternatives to meat.

However, this year Strain said some Mardi Gras celebrations continued without chowing down on crawfish, which were scarce and unaffordable for many.

In a letter last week to United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Strain said: “For the first time in many years, due to sustained drought in 2023 and freezing temperatures in early 2024, crawfish are simply unavailable.”