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Crawfish (Procambarus clarkii [red swamp], P. zonangulus [white river])
Also known as: Crawdad, Crayfish, Mudbug
Source: Wild-caught and farm-raised in freshwater areas of Louisiana

Crawfish are found in ditches, rivers, lakes, and streams. They frequently burrow in the bottom sediment. Like their name implies, red swamp crawfish prefer swampy habitats. They’re native to northeastern Mexico and south-central United States, although they’ve been introduced in many other states and countries, where they’re considered invasive. White river crawfish prefer flooded wetlands but their habitat often overlaps the same habitat as red swamp crawfish. They’re native from Texas to Alabama and are only found in the United States.


Crawfish grow by molting—they form a new, larger shell, causing their old outer shell to shed. Juvenile crawfish can molt as often as once a week during their first few months but less often as they mature. On average, they can grow up to about six inches long.

Crawfish are able to reproduce by as young as two months old. Female red swamp crawfish can lay eggs at any time but mostly during the fall and winter. They can produce up to twice as many eggs as white river crawfish, with an average of about 250 babies per female. Female white river crawfish lay eggs from mid to late fall, producing fewer and larger eggs than red swamp crawfish, with an average of 130 babies per female. Crawfish can live up to three years.

Crawfish are omnivorous, feeding on anything from vegetation to small invertebrates and remains of dead animals. Fish, birds, and small mammals prey on crawfish.


Crawfish are freshwater crustaceans that resemble small lobsters. They have a joined, two-part shell, made up of their cephalothorax (head and thorax) and abdomen. They have four pairs of walking legs and a pair of large pincher claws. They also have small paddle-like legs under the abdomen. Of the numerous species of crawfish, only two are commercially important in the Gulf: red swamp crawfish and white river crawfish. Red swamp crawfish are red in color, with a blue-grey line on the underside of their tail. The two halves of their shell meet and form a thin line down the middle of their back. White swamp crawfish are pink or purplish, but never red, with white or tan walking legs. A gap separates the two halves of their shell on their back.


Abundant in the swamps and marshes of south Louisiana, crawfish have long been an important part of Louisiana’s culture and economy. These freshwater crustaceans were a favorite food of Native Americans and early settlers in Louisiana, and Louisiana fishermen have been harvesting crawfish commercially since at least the late 1800s. In the late 1940s, rice farmers developed a method to farm crawfish, re-flooding their rice fields after the fall rice harvest to facilitate crawfish growth and produce a crawfish crop. Crawfish farming eventually expanded to ponds and swamps as well. Since wild crawfish harvests depend on a number of environmental variables and are unpredictable, crawfish farming made it possible to have more consistent supplies. Farm-raised and wild-caught crawfish crops generally complement each other—farm-raised crawfish are available late fall through mid-spring, and, if conditions are favorable, wild-caught crawfish dominate the market from mid-spring to early summer.

Today, crawfish is not only still a staple throughout Louisiana at backyard crawfish boils and on restaurant tables but is also growing in popularity in other markets. Louisiana’s rivers, bayous, swamps, and lakes are still significant sources of crawfish, but the vast majority of the state’s crawfish production is farm-raised in thousands of acres of crawfish ponds. With more than 1,000 crawfish fishermen and more than 1,300 crawfish farmers, Louisiana leads the nation in crawfish production, supplying 100 to 120 million pounds per year. Louisiana’s crawfish industry contributes more than $300 million to the state’s economy annually.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is responsible for monitoring and managing wild crawfish through gear, licensing, and reporting requirements. Harvest controls are not necessary to protect the crawfish resource as their populations are resilient and influenced by environmental conditions, rather than fishing.

Since farm-raised crawfish are an agricultural product, they fall under the purview of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other agencies. Crawfish farming is considered to be a relatively environmentally friendly use of land. While there are no specific regulations for crawfish farming, many crawfish farmers follow best management practices to minimize potential impacts of crawfish ponds on the environment and reduce water use and associated energy and waters costs.

Methods Seasons Landings
Commercial Recreational

Farm-raised crawfish has regularly accounted for the vast majority of the state’s commercial crawfish production. Less than 10% of the production is from wild caught areas mainly in the Atchafalaya Basin.

Louisiana’s wild crawfish harvest is highly variable and fluctuates due to a variety of biological, environmental, and economic factors. Since 1991, wild crawfish harvests have averaged more than 15.7 million pounds per year with average dockside revenue of more than $10.9 million.

Crawfish farms are able to control many of the variables that affect wild crawfish harvest and can provide a more consistent supply. In recent years, more than 170,000 acres of crawfish ponds in Louisiana typically have yielded between 95 million and 110 million pounds of crawfish each year, with a farm gate value of approximately $115 million to $170 million. While there are small harvests of farmed crawfish in other states, Louisiana is by far the largest producer in the United States. Most farmers produce crawfish for food but sometimes sell crawfish for bait or for aquarium or scientific specimens.

Source: NOAA Fisheries Annual Commercial Landings Statistics


Landings Summary Data :  
1992
 To 
2016



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1992$761,9901,691,966
1993$832,3301,852,120
1994$1,081,6422,351,987
1995$1,102,2632,229,005
1996$1,325,6772,214,334
1997$1,367,1522,709,749
1998$1,407,0332,230,802
1999$1,905,4713,972,000
2000$2,058,7194,201,272
2001$1,763,3003,787,380


Overview Current Abundance Additional Reasearch
Overview

While biologists conduct studies on the wild crawfish resource, they do not sample and survey the populations like other fisheries resources. To monitor wild crawfish harvests, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries requires docks that purchase crawfish directly from commercial fishermen to submit trip tickets to capture information about their catch—for example, what it is, where and how it was caught, etc. Commercial fishermen who sell their catch directly to consumers are also required to complete and submit trip tickets. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the Louisiana State University AgCenter both provide rough estimates of how much crawfish farms produce.


Current Abundance

Stock assessments are not required for the wild crawfish resource. Crawfish are prolific breeders, and their abundance relies more on water levels and subsequent habitat availability. The crawfish population is resilient due to the species’ biological characteristics, as evidenced by the fishery’s long, productive history.


Additional Research

N/A


Who's Responsible Management Program
Who's Responsible

In Louisiana, crawfish are harvested from the wild and crawfish farms.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, and the Louisiana Legislature are responsible for managing the wild crawfish harvest in Louisiana’s waters.

Farm-raised crawfish, as an agricultural product, falls under the purview of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other agencies.


Management Program

Wild

There are minimal management measures for wild crawfish harvest, besides gear, licensing, and reporting requirements, as this resource is productive, resilient, and more influenced by environmental conditions rather than fishing. Years of very high catches are related to high abundance due to high river water levels and increased habitat availability. Years of low catches are related to low abundance due to low river water levels and resulting limited habitat.

Commercial:

  • Fishermen must be properly licensed to commercially harvest wild crawfish.
  • Crawfish trap openings and mesh must meet minimum size requirements to allow small crawfish to escape. Small crawfish have little market value and are important to the stock for breeding.
  • Commercial fishermen must submit “trip tickets” when they sell their crawfish to dealers, processors, retailers, or other buyers. Trip tickets include details about the volume and price of catch, the type of catch, where it was caught, etc. and help managers keep track of harvests.

Recreational:

  • Recreational fishermen must be properly licensed to harvest crawfish.
  • Gear restrictions limit the type of gear fishermen may use to harvest crawfish. If using traps, they must tag them with information including their name and license number. They may use no more than 35 traps and the traps must meet size requirements. The trap limit is a way to allow recreational fishermen the means to harvest enough crawfish for personal consumption but too little for commercial sale (which would require the proper licenses).
  • Recreational fishermen may harvest no more than 150 pounds of crawfish daily; this limit helps control harvests so all users can share in this resource.
  • Overall, some areas including wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas, and habitat conservation areas may be closed to certain gear types, methods of fishing, or fishing altogether and may have different possession limits.

LDWF’s Law Enforcement Division is responsible for ensuring compliance with all commercial and recreational licensing and harvesting regulations through regular patrols and investigations. Penalties for violations vary with the severity of the violation and include fines, jail time, loss of fishing license, and forfeiture of property.

Farmed

Crawfish farming is considered to be a relatively environmentally friendly use of land. While there are no specific regulations for crawfish farming, many crawfish farmers follow best management practices to minimize potential impacts of crawfish ponds on the environment and reduce water use and associated energy and pumping costs.

LDAF does not require crawfish farmers to have a license to raise crawfish on agricultural lands or to sell to the average consumer. However, if the buyer plans to resell their crawfish, they must have the appropriate licenses from LDWF and/or the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.