Almost immediately after the holidays, south Louisiana consumers start thinking about crawfish. Crawfish boils aren’t uncommon the first warm weekend of the year. But according to an LSU AgCenter aquaculture specialist, early harvests are down this year, making crawfish a little harder to come by.

“As of right now, a lot of producers are off by as much as a third or a half of what they normally would have caught by this point in the season,” said Greg Lutz, LSU AgCenter crawfish expert.

The life cycle of a crawfish is complicated, and survival rates depend on several factors, Lutz said, adding that it looks like a few things went wrong last year to affect this year’s crop.

“The summer was extremely dry in some areas. And generally when we see that, that means we’re going to see low survival down in the ground in those burrows.”

Hurricane Gustav also affected crawfish survival. Heavy rains flooded many crawfish ponds, forcing crawfish out of their burrows early. The crawfish emerged into water that had plenty of debris and little oxygen.

“The crawfish were looking for ways to get up out of the oxygen-poor water, but birds, raccoons and other predators tend to eat them as fast as they come out of the water.”

Temperatures also are an important factor in the crawfish harvest. In Louisiana, it’s hard to predict winter weather, Lutz said, pointing out that January has had cold and rainy days mixed with a few warmer ones.

Cooler temperatures hold oxygen in the ponds, but there is a down side to the cold.

“Crawfish are cold-blooded animals, and the colder water slows the crawfish metabolism until they get to a point where they just pretty much stop growing.”

In cold weather, crawfish aren’t eating, they aren’t growing and they are not going in the traps.

Lutz said as the ponds warm, more crawfish may be available.

“The good thing is there are crawfish out there. If you want crawfish, you can find crawfish. You may have to make a few extra phone calls, but they are out there.”