BREAUX BRIDGE – So far, the 2008-2009 crawfish season in St. Martin Parish and Acadiana hasn’t started very well, though reasons vary as to why. Atchafalaya Basin and pond fishermen and wholesalers are hurting right now.
“It’s terrible,” Gerald LeGrand, of Crawfish Distributors, Inc. here along Parkway Lane, said Monday.
Just two weeks ago, fishermen were getting $3 a pound. Now it’s nearer to $2. Fishing is 50 percent lower than last year. Rains from the hurricanes flowed over levees and allowed crawfish to escape late last year. Also, a summer drought left crawfish without their main source of survival: water. Crawfish die in dry soil.
“You need water, and the water’s going down,” said Mike Bienvenu of Catahoula. Bienvenu, who is president of Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association-West, fishes the great basin. He goes out twice a week and has brought back, at most, two sacks per day.
“You can’t really make any money. You can’t go out often enough to make a living,” he said Monday. “Some of the ponds are doing pretty good, but most of them aren’t. But it’s still early, so it could all change.”
March, April and May are the peak months for crawfish. “It all depends on the water. You could have one storm come across the valley and the water could go up to 20 feet in two weeks,” he said. “That’s why we’ve been trying to get these natural bayous flowing.” The hurricanes, he said, hurt because debris is keeping some basin farmers from getting to their best spots.
“The earlier you get water the sooner you’ll have a crawfish crop,” said Bienvenu, who also noted that farmers have been in trouble since the early 1990s. “That’s when we started to see a big change,” he said. “You had bigger and better crawfish in the 1980s. Last year you had some pretty good crawfish, but there was water last year.”
One wife of a crawfish farmer is also frustrated.
“In the basin, no – there’s nothing,” said Barbara Bourque, whose husband, Charles “Kiki” Bourque, has set basin traps, to no avail, early in the season. “He’s been baiting here and there and he’s not catching nothing.” Kiki is also fishing ponds with his brother, in Cecilia, to make up for the loss.
“Just from talking to the St. Martin fishermen, the basin guys are down because of lack of water,” said Stephen Minvielle, director of the Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association. “By the end of this week it’ll be below 9 feet out there. I’m expecting a drop in volume all across the state.”
According to the LSU Ag Center – whose numbers Minvielle often disputes – pond crawfishing in 2007, the latest numbers available, was at 109 million pounds. In 2006, it was 79 million. In 2005, farmers fished 73 million and in 2004 it was at 69 million.
Also, when the water’s unseasonably cold, as it is now, crawfish burrow and don’t come out. Warmer weather should help, but “once you lose out early in the season, you don’t make that up,” Minvielle said.
However, at Landry’s Seafood House at the Henderson-Interstate 10 exit, manager Allen Devillier is not too concerned.
“It’s the same thing every year,” Devillier said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. People try to start it too early. Your season’s lasting longer.
The Crawfish Festival (in Breaux Bridge in early May) was originally to celebrate the end of crawfish season. People cook crawfish and farm crawfish up to July now, even August. Every year you hear this. By the end of March they’ll be giving away crawfish.”