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Rain may hurt 2013 Crawfish season

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CROWLEY, La., (KNOE 8 News) – As Mardi Gras gets closer, many in Louisiana look forward to consuming their favorite crustacean, the crawfish. While it is still very early in the season, there have been indicators that this year's supply will be improved when compared to last year's.

One potential problem, though, is the recent heavy rain that has struck Louisiana. Flooding can dampen production several ways, according to Ray McClain, LSU AgCenter crawfish researcher.

"Flooding can lead to increased submerging of the vegetation. Vegetation that normally fragments over time tends to collapse when flooded. As temperatures warm later in the season, this vegetation stockpiled on the bottom starts decomposing, leading to possible low dissolved oxygen," McClain said.

Excessive flooding can cause other issues that decrease production. Levees being overtopped can allow crawfish to escape the pond and introduce crawfish-eating fish. If heavy winds accompany the flooding rains, levees can be damaged, causing producers to make time-consuming and costly repairs.

Although these flooding incidents may be limited at this time, the extended forecast calls for more rain.

The timely rains over the course of the past summer and fall increased crawfish survival rates in their burrows and facilitated emergence from their burrows. This increased survival generally indicates a better brood hatch in the early fall, McClain said.

"Last year we were not as dry as the previous year during the hot summer months, and this usually means more young crawfish emerge with the opportunity to reach market size," McClain said.

Crawfish supply typically peaks in mid-April to mid-May when farm-raised production peaks and catches from the wild begin. The wild season is dependent upon the spring flood of the Mississippi. With much of the West and Midwest still experiencing dry conditions, the wild season is uncertain.

Warm temperatures in November and December contributed to increased growth opportunity for those hatchlings, McClain said.

"For those farmers actively fishing during this time, the quality of the catch was good for that time of the year," McClain said. He noted that most producers fishing during November and December were fishing permanent ponds or ponds that were in crawfish production the previous year, and catch at that time represented "hold-over," or crawfish surviving from the previous season.

More crawfish farmers will begin fishing as the hatchlings reach harvest size, and this accelerates as temperatures warm in early to mid-February in south Louisiana. McClain noted that with the Super Bowl in New Orleans this year, there could be even higher demand for crawfish because of the influx of visitors to the city.

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