Monday, August 15, 2011

Louisiana Crawfish

Louisiana crawfish have been commercially available as food source since the late 1800's. The earliest account of a commercial crawfish harvest can be traced back to the year 1880 where crawfisherman netted over 23,000 pounds and bringing in $2100. In the wild, the two species of commercial significance are the red swamp crawfish (Procambarus clarkia) and the white river crawfish (Procambarus zonangulus). Because the species often coexist, it is common to find both in the same catch, and it is nearly impossible for crawfishermen to attract one species over the other in the wild. These wild crawfish are caught primarily in riparian zones, or lands and waters along rivers and slow moving streams
throughout the lower Mississippi River floodplain, primarily in the Atchafalaya River basin. Because their life cycle is tied to natural patterns of flooding and draining within their living environment, extreme climate conditions like drought and heavy rain cause annual populations to vary. Delivering a consistent supply without significant price fluctuations from year to year became more difficult with steadily increasing market demand. When remote settlements and communities began to populate the rural floodplains of Louisiana, swamps and bayous were drained, levied, or filled in for development, shrinking these environs. A thriving economy based on pollutant prone petrochemicals led to a further loss of freshwater wetlands as transport and access canals were dredged, causing salt water intrusion. While older, larger crawfish can tolerate low salinity levels, the smaller younger populations do not survive, thus breaking the reproductive cycle. These pressures led to a sharp decline in commercially available crawfish taken from the wild. In the 2005 crawfish season, less than ten percent of the total 82 million pound harvest, originated as wild catch.

Most of the domestic crawfish sold in the U.S. today, comes from farming operations in Louisiana. Crawfish raising cannot be traced back to a single time and place; it was more of an evolution. Tradition and culture in Louisiana elevates the mudbug's status to that of precious commodity. Historically, there has always been such a high demand that qualitative differentiation in supply or selection based on similarity among variants never occurred. Crawfish are crawfish, as long as they are edible. If crawfish are available, wholesalers, distributors, retailers, and restaurant owners will purchase every last one, at any price, and there is never surplus. By the time anxious buyers are exchanging their cash for crawfish, the question of where the crawfish came from is not their highest priority. Because of the high cultural importance placed on crawfish, consumer demand is equally satisfied with both wild and farm raised crawfish. As farm raised crawfish begin to outnumber wild caught crawfish in the marketplace, there is little evidence suggesting consumer preference. The most important issue concerning increasing numbers from farming is simply, the overall supply for a given year has grown.

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