BATON ROUGE, La. — While Hurricane Katrina’s fury sidestepped Louisiana’s crawfish acreage, centered in the southwest section of the state, the storm’s aftermath is likely to severely disrupt the industry’s economy.

Mark Shirley, aquiculture Extension agent at Louisiana State University, said about half of the crawfish consumer market is in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

With those two areas demolished and facing uncertain rebuilding timetables — if any — there will be economic ramifications, Shirley said, and regardless of how soon roads are repaired for distribution.

“The fallout with tourism could be significant. New Orleans and Mississippi’s coastline have lots of people who eat crawfish. The industry will have to find new markets, in Texas or Mexico, wherever they might be,” he said.

While crawfish harvest occurs in early spring, farmers begin pumping their ponds with 3 to 5 feet an acre of water to raise them in October. With exacerbating fuel prices, due to disabled refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, production costs could pose a problem that trumps finding a substitute marketplace, Shirley said.

“The price of fuel, already high, now will go higher, and that might be the biggest impact felt,” he said.

Over the past five years, because Louisiana’s sugar cane and rice harvests have been somewhat devalued, crawfish acreage has gradually increased as many farmers have designated a portion of their land to the crustacean.

“Crawfish have been an important part of their overall farm system, but with higher production costs, I expect some of those fields may not be flooded (for production),” Shirley said.

He noted that perhaps crawfish farmers’ saving grace might lie in the factor that caused the predicament: the weather.

If Louisiana receives above-average rainfall in the winter months, Shirley proposed, crawfish farmers could recoup higher fuel costs spent in October and November.

But that scenario, he acknowledged, is unpredictable.

Meanwhile Robert Romaire, resident director of the LSU AgCenter’s Aquaculture Research Station in Baton Rouge, said it may be a while before officials are able to accurately assess the state’s oyster industry, though early estimates say as much as 30 percent of oyster boats have been destroyed.

It’s also too early to evaluate damage, he added, done to the state’s alligator and turtle farms.

Shirley noted that in regards to the crawfish industry, the threat of a tropical storm or hurricane is heightened when one develops earlier in the summertime.

“In past years storms have dumped 10 to 15 inches of rain in July or August, and that causes the crawfish to come out of the ground prematurely where they die from a lack of oxygen and exposure to severe heat,” he said. “That is when it is catastrophic.”

e-mail: abell@primediabusiness.com