Extreme drought in Louisiana threatens to create a crawfish shortage

Nearly 80 percent of Louisiana remains in a severe drought which will lead to fewer crawfish and higher prices for the state’s multi-million dollar "mudbug" industry. Communities correspondent Roby Chavez has been following the story and joined Geoff Bennett to discuss why farmers are worried.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Louisiana leads the nation in crawfish production, but heading into this year's season, months of high temperatures and dry conditions have devastated crawfish farms.

    Geoff Bennett spoke yesterday with one of our communities correspondents about the impact.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Nearly 80 percent of Louisiana remains in a severe drought, which will lead to fewer crawfish and higher prices for the state's multimillion-dollar crawfish industry.

    Our communities correspondent, Roby Chavez, has been talking to farmers and joins us now from New Orleans.

    So, Roby, quantify the impact for us. How significant is this expected to be?

  • Roby Chavez:

    Well, Geoff, look, for now it's a waiting game. We're all waiting for those tiny crustaceans to emerge from their underground burrows, but it has been slow.

    Some have dug down way too deep, waiting, looking for moisture. Others have had the tunnels collapse on them. And,in the meantime, the rice fields where they grow and they thrive, where they feed on, have been damaged as well. The crawfish is a staple of Louisiana cuisine, as you know. But this year, there is worry on crawfish farms across the state.

    The problem, mudbugs, as they are sometimes called, they don't have enough water to grow and thrive, and temperatures have been way too hot. Predictions are that crawfish farmers could lose nearly $140 million. Drought stress will impact all of the state's 1,600 farmers and a third of the state's 250,000 acres of crawfish ponds.

    Now, the culprit, rainfall in Louisiana has been down nearly 44 percent, and temperatures rose three degrees from May through October compared to the four-year average. As a result, there is some concern in the crawfish capital of the world that they will take a significant financial hit, Geoff.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And the peak season, as I understand it, runs from march to May, so time is clearly running out. How are farmers there coping?

  • Roby Chavez:

    Well, look, we spoke with a fifth-generation farmer who's been hauling crawfish out of the pond since he was in high school. He can't remember anything like this for the last 30 years.

    Josh Trahan says he normally will farm 800 acres on his land. He's already lost half of that. And he says the financial losses started to add up even before the season started.

  • Josh Trahan, Crawfish Farmer:

    In the past, without a crawfish, we couldn't survive. Crawfish was our backbone. The crawfish kept us floating, kept the cash flow going.

    Without a crawfish income this year, it's going to be a struggle, unless we get some kind of financial help down the road.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And, look, Roby, you could argue that crawfish are Louisiana's culinary gift to this country. How does the shortage affect the community and the culture across Louisiana?

  • Roby Chavez:

    Look, Geoff, in the short term, it's hard to imagine a spring without crawfish, but that looks like where we're heading at this point.

    As you know, right after Christmas, people start planting these traditional crawfish boils that start at Carnival. It lasts all the way through Easter and even beyond. We got a glimpse of what it would look like without these crawfish gatherings during the pandemic, when the social gatherings were halted.

    Many people, including a lot of the farmers, worry that this problem will also open the door to cheap imports. With nearly eight inches of rain in December, Trahan and other farmers are hopeful, but they say it may be too little, too late. They're not seeing the new hatches, nor are they seeing the so-called mamas with eggs attached under the tail of the crawfish.

    Trahan says, this time of year, he'd be pulling in 60 sacks a day from his 3,000 traps, but he says he's lucky if he gets five pounds. The crawfish are just not there.

  • Josh Trahan:

    We lost 35, 40 percent of our population due to the heat of the water we had this summer. I'm very worried, because I rely on this. This is my living.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Farmers argue that, if their crops continue to be impacted by the changing climate patterns, they may need more protections from Congress, similar to those given to corn farmers and wheat farmers — Geoff.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Communities correspondent Roby Chavez.

    Roby, thanks so much.

  • Roby Chavez:

    Thank you, Geoff.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And you can read more of Roby's reporting online at PBS.org.

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