‘It’s just two months behind:’ Why is Houston seeing a shortage of crawfish during peak season?

ROANOKE, Louisiana – While the crawfish season in Houston is well underway, the supply isn’t there. Typically during the first few months of the season, we’re filled to our eyes with the “mud bugs” that have become such a craved part of our cuisine in Southeast Texas.

But this year is different, in a big way.

To get to the root of the problem, we had to drive three hours east of Houston to the small town of Roanoke, Louisiana. That’s where the crawfish you see on your dinner table are fished.

A crawfish on the sorting table of a boat fishing during the record-breaking slow start to the 2023 season in Roanoke, Louisiana. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

On the thousands of acres of Southern Louisiana rice farms, is where you’ll find the little critters buried in the mud.

“Everything I buy goes to Houston, you know, which is well over 2 million pounds a year,” said Jeff Brousard, owner of Jeff Brousard Crawfish.

With his name on the company, you can tell he’s serious about fishing for crawfish. Broussard’s been at it for well over a quarter century.

Jeff: “33 years.”

Gage: “What makes you want to keep doing this every year?”

Jeff: “It’s just. It is part of me. Not one year is ever going to be the same for crawfish. Every year. Like this year.”

The 2022 crawfish season was record-breaking. He and other farmers in the area hauled in more mudbugs than he can remember in his 30+ years.

Fast forward to this season, it’s polar opposites.

“There’s roughly 250, 250,000 acres of crawfish in Southwest Louisiana. There’s 80,000 [acres] gone this year,” Broussard said.

The reason: A long summer drought in 2022.

Rice fields dried up and nearly all of the crawfish buried in the mud died.

This leaves farmers roughly two to three months behind schedule.

However, in Houston, distributors and restaurants still want their crawfish. That includes second-generation crawfish seller Andrew Lee of Lafitte’s Seafood. He’s among the many begging for whatever they can get their hands on and paying top dollar for what comes their way.

“Retail it out price to restaurants right now. Around $10.” Lee said.

In 2022, Lee was selling crawfish for around $4 per pound. This year, it’s $10 per pound.

By the time it gets to your plate at a restaurant, it could reach upwards of $16 per pound.

“Twenty-five years ago, if you’d asked me, could we sell crawfish for this price, I would have bet my house and my truck we couldn’t,” Broussard said.

Today, Jeff is barely able to fish enough crawfish to fill the back of his pickup truck.

“I’m going to show y’all like like what’s going on in the field,” he said.

If you’ve never been crawfish fishing, let’s set the scene. This isn’t setting sail into the Gulf of Mexico on a million dollar yacht while sipping on wine.

Instead, we hop aboard a boat that’s more of a combination of a skiff and a tractor, pushing its way through the flooded rice fields.

A fisherman lifts a pot that only has a few crawfish inside amid a record-breaking slow start to the fishing season in Roanoke, Louisiana. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

The captain is also the fisherman as well as the sorter and the bagger.

“So, he’s literally fishing and bagging them all at the same time,” Lee said.

Of the few crawfish he pulls and dumps on the table, at least their good size.

Andrew: So, he’s literally fishing and bagging them all at the same time.”

Gage: “I mean, size-wise or these good?”

Andrew: “Size-wise right now this is gold.”

Gage: “Really?”

Andrew: “Yeah. Everybody would fight over these right now.”

Each of the pots they bring over the side of the boat only has three, maybe five crawfish inside. Typically, there’s dozens for each and every pot.

“A lot of people are asking, why are the crawfish prices so high,” Lee said. “It’s just, it’s because of this, right? Like, you’re usually producing 10 to 20 sacks and you’re only producing three bags. It’s brutal.”

After all of the fields are fished, the rather light catch heads to be weighed, tagged and cooled before it heads out on a truck to Houston next day.

As of late, those three hour treks to H-Town end up costing both Lee and Broussard money. The volume just simply isn’t there.

If something doesn’t change soon, both could be in a tough spot.

Gage: “Could this put you out of business?”

Andrew: ”Oh, for sure. It can make you. It can make you a break. You know what I mean? If you don’t have any crawfish and your business 70%. Yeah, It’s going to hurt.”

Gage: “But two or three years of this, that could that could be a nail in the coffin.”

Jeff: “Two or three years is like this right here. That industry will be dead. Every year is different and it’s a challenge and that’s what keeps me going. I’m going to do this till I die. I’ll never retire.”

There’s one thing that can help get the crawfish industry back on its tracks and booming again. That’s water,

A rainy summer will help the crawfish population grow.

While the season has been slow to start, it’s not all bad news. Although numbers are down now, both Jeff and Andrew think they will be fishing for crawfish come August, which is way later than they usually do.

About the Author

Gage Goulding is an award-winning TV news reporter and anchor. A native of Pittsburgh, PA, he comes to Texas from Fort Myers, FL, where he covered some of the areas most important stories, including Hurricane Ian.

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