Crawfish lovers likely won’t be feeling the “laissez les bon temps rouler” spirit this year. Farmers and restaurateurs are in a supply crisis as crawfish season kicks off, but the bleakness of the situation depends on where you look and when you expect to find them. 

Last summer in Louisiana—where 90 percent of crawfish production occurs in the U.S. (Texas is the number two producer)—brought record-breaking drought and temperatures so high that Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency. There also wasn’t enough freshwater to flood the fields in October, a procedure that gets the crawfish to emerge from their burrows and repopulate. A January freeze was no help, either. The result of all those factors is an estimated 60 percent loss to Louisiana’s $230 million crawfish industry. 

“In thirty-five years, I’ve never seen it this bad,” says Scott Broussard, owner of Acadia Crawfish, a large distributor based in Crowley, Louisiana, that sells to H-E-B. In past years, during the first week of February, he was buying between 100,000 and 150,000 pounds of crawfish from his fishermen in Louisiana. During the same time this year, he only bought 6,000 pounds. That’s not enough for Texas’s beloved grocery chain, so for now, Broussard is selling to restaurants.

Addressing the shortage, a representative from H-E-B said: “Extreme weather patterns in 2023 have caused supply and demand issues in the crawfish industry that is affecting retailers nationwide. We continue to closely monitor the situation and work with our suppliers to secure crawfish that meets H-E-B quality standards.”

Broussard has witnessed a lack of crawdads on his own two farms in the Acadia and Allen parishes. In early February this year, he caught ten pounds in one day—the norm would be closer to four hundred pounds. He knows some farmers and experts are expecting to see an increase by March or April, but “right now we’re so far in the hole, we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet,” he says. If the USDA doesn’t respond with emergency assistance, which a Louisiana congressman petitioned for on January 30, Broussard fears that more than half of Louisiana’s crawfish farmers won’t be able to pay back their bank loans.

Another Crowley wholesaler, Jeff Broussard (unrelated to Scott Broussard), who sells to the Houston area, says he’s only been able to sell 10 percent of his usual amount so far this year. “Everybody’s scared out here,” he says. “We think it’s a disaster, no different than a hurricane, an earthquake, a flood.”

LSU AgCenter’s marine extension agent, Mark Shirley, believes 75 to 90 percent of Louisiana’s farm-raised crawfish could be lost this year due to extreme weather, but he’s not ready to chalk it up to climate change yet. “We had a weather event,” he says, pointing to a pattern of drought every ten years or so. Still, last summer’s drought was the worst he’s seen in his forty years of studying crawfish.

Texas’s crawfish farmers are faring a bit better according to aquaculture extension specialist Todd Sink and marine extension agent Nikki Fitzgerald, of Texas A&M. That could be due to a number of factors, including geography, better sources of freshwater, more farmers producing year-round rather than rotating with a rice crop, and fewer cases of disease and invasive species. Like Shirley, Sink is hesitant to call this year’s low harvest a result of climate change, but does say extreme weather events are becoming more prevalent.

In Texas, farmers typically wait until late February to set traps, so it’s still too early to determine how this summer’s weather affected Texas-raised crawfish. Twenty miles west of Beaumont, Alan Gaulding of Southeast Texas Crawfish Farm in Hamshire and Jake Tortorice II of Bayou Best Crawfish Farm in Sour Lake wait for warmer weather, after crawfish have finished molting, to set traps. So far, they’re not too worried. 

Whereas Louisiana is experiencing a two-month delay in harvest, Tortorice estimates Texas farmers will see a two-week delay. Fitzgerald at Texas A&M also seems confident. “It’s not going to be a full-fledged season,” she says, “but there will be some crawfish coming out of Texas this year.”

As the demand for crawfish grows in Texas, some restaurateurs are feeling the pinch. Dan Meaux, who owns Crawfish Shack, a popular spot about in Crosby, 25 miles east of Houston, opened for the season on January 31, selling crawfish to go at $13 per pound. He felt bad charging that price. (In 2021, $5 per pound was considered expensive.) Meaux wasn’t willing to raise it more, so he closed the restaurant to wait for prices to come down. He says he’s hoping to reopen February 21. 

Beaumont-based Mexi-Cajun chain Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp typically sees a 15 to 20 percent increase in sales during crawfish season, which helps make up for a slow January. Even so, partner Doug Clothier is waiting until wholesale prices come down to $5 per pound to put mudbugs on the menu. He’s seen other places selling at $12 to $17 per pound, but “I don’t feel my customers will stand for that, and then I’ll end up having a bunch of loss,” he says.

In 21 years of business, Austin’s Quality Seafood Market owner Carol Huntsberger has noticed the demand for crawfish starting earlier each year. This year, she says she was getting up to forty calls a day seeking crawfish for the Super Bowl. She’s unsure if she’ll offer crawfish at all this year because she doesn’t want to sell the small, softer crawfish that are prevalent early in the season.

On the other hand, Houston chef-owner Tony Nguyen, of Xin Chào and Saigon House, is eager to offer whatever he can get his hands on. To help “get the farmers going,” he started selling at $16 per pound in early January, a price met with accusations of price gouging in the popular Crawfish Community Facebook group. On January 20, he dropped the price to $12.99 per pound. As of today, it’s $11.99.

A look at the numbers is disheartening. Saigon House rang up $2,900 in total restaurant sales in January this year, while 2023 numbers were between $100,000 and $120,000. As someone who is “more a consumer than a seller,” Nguyen says he’s used to eating crawfish three or four times a week during this time of year. Among his earliest and fondest memories is his father coming home with a newspaper and a sack of crawfish, back when it was $2 per pound. This year, he’s given everything he can get to his customers. 

“Honestly, we don’t know what to do,” he says.