The Borges family has been in the seafood business for four generation. Bill Borges is the current owner and president of New Orleans Fish House, a wholesale seafood supplier. In recent years, he has seen crawfish arrive earlier than ever.
"In all the old times, it seemed that Lent season, the spring, was when crawfish started showing up," Borges said. "It seems like the last five years that has changed. It's gotten earlier and earlier."
The bulk of the supply still arrives in the spring. And on Tuesday (Dec. 5), Borges said none of his suppliers currently had crawfish to sell.
What has caused the crawfish to come earlier?
Weather affects the crawfish supply. Rain in the summer means more crawfish later in the year. A cold snap makes the crawfish harder to catch.
The biggest factor, however, causing crawfish to show up earlier is business.
According to Greg Lutz, a professor of aquaculture at LSU AgCenter, more and more farmers are flooding their ponds earlier. That decision, however, comes with a cost. The warmer water doesn't hold as much oxygen, so the crawfish farmers need to pump oxygenated water into their ponds.
"The trade-off is, I'm going to invest this money to get an early crop," Lutz said.
Typically, it costs about $1,000 an acre to produce a crop of crawfish. One acre produces on average 550 to 600 pounds of crawfish, although that amount can vary widely.
Harvesting early, due to the pumping, can add 15 percent to the cost.
Our growing mania for crawfish has driven the early harvesting.
"There seems to be enough demand for early season crawfish that on some farms it's justified," Lutz said.
We're willing to pay for it, so some farmers are willing to take on the extra cost.
During the main part of crawfish season in the spring, the mudbugs are smaller in the earlier months. But Lutz said that these early crawfish are often good-sized.
"Most of the early production comes from crawfish that didn't get harvested the prior season, went down in the ground and sat out the summer," he said.
Jason Seither, chef and owner of Seither's Seafood in Harahan, has been cooking and selling crawfish for 15 years. He has always seen some crawfish come on the market as early as late November or early December.
"It's very slim pickings. It's sporadic. It's not like we're getting them every day," Seither said about the early crawfish.
Seither always closes his restaurant between Christmas and New Year's Day. When he returns from the holidays, customers arrive hungry for crawfish.
"When we reopen in January," he said, "that's when all hell breaks loose."
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