The 2011 crawfish season is off to a slow start mainly because of unusually long stretches of cold weather. However, a recent warm-up is boosting the catch.

Predicting whether the season will be good or bad is difficult, according to Ray McClain, crawfish specialist for the LSU AgCenter. “There are many factors that influence crawfish production and the degree of how each factor affects production will vary widely making a prediction an inexact science. There really is no crystal ball.”

During a Feb. 21 LSU AgCenter meeting for crawfish producers in Opelousas, Donnie Fisher, of Whiteville, said his ponds are off to a slow start and most of the crawfish are small. “Right now it’s about the same as last year.”

On Feb. 15, Fisher caught 250 pounds in 1,250 traps and said the total is increasing with warm weather. “It’s picking up every day. It went from three sacks one day to five to seven sacks.”

Dustin Le of Arnaudville said his 25-acre pond isn’t producing much. “Right now, it’s very slow, probably because of the cold.”

But Le is optimistic that warm weather will bring improvement. “I think we need a little time.”

Barrett Olivier of Opelousas said he’s noticing better results with the warmer temperatures. “The catch is picking up. I think the season is going to be good, but late.”

Weather and the health of the animals play a large role in whether a successful season will unfold, McClain said.

Spawning takes place as early as late July through September. Females burrow into the ground nearly three feet where they lay eggs and hatch their young. An unusually dry period during this time can lead to a high mortality rate in the burrows of both mature and juvenile crawfish causing a poor season.

Rainfall is also important during the early fall. “A mature crawfish needs rainfall to soften the plug on the burrow. Without moisture during this time, the female and young cannot escape the burrow,” McClain said.

“Just because the harvest is slow this time a year, it may not equate to a poor season,” McClain said. “The season may just be delayed. The crawfish are there. They just haven’t reached a marketable size.”

McClain noted that a long delay generally correlates to a lower seasonal harvest. The majority of crawfish production comes from farm ponds in southwest and south central Louisiana.

According to the latest LSU AgCenter Ag Summary figures, approximately 98 million pounds of crawfish were harvested from ponds last year compared to about 15.5 million pounds caught in the wild.

Production costs have increased for producers in 2011. Both fuel and bait costs are up. Fish bait is used by many crawfish producers when water temperatures are below 70 degrees because research has showed it to be more effective.