Not long after I posted my mini-rant on the difficulty of securing genuine Louisiana crawfish in the District, I received an e-mail from Rene LeBreton under the subject line: Loved your crawfish article “The Sourcing Game.” With a name like LeBreton, I knew Rene had to be from Louisiana.
LeBreton, in fact, is the assistant executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board within the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
I exploited LeBreton’s kindness by grilling him about the state of Louisiana crawfish and how Chinese imports continue to affect the local markets. The United States, he notes, imports about $43 million worth of crawfish annually, according to 2007 statistics, the vast majority of which comes from China. That same year, Louisiana produced about 112 million pounds of crawfish, both farmed and wild, with a total value of $121 million. Officials believe that about 70 percent of the Louisiana crawfish are consumed in the immediate Gulf Coast area.
Chinese imports, in other words, likely account for a large percentage of the crawfish consumed in other parts of the United States. Writes LeBreton:
The tariffs [on Chinese crawfish] have helped level the playing field a bit, specifically it has increased the cost of their tail meat $1.50 to $2.00 a pound. China still brings a lot of frozen crawfish tail meat into the US – despite the tariffs their reduced labor costs and limited regulations allow them to sell their product at a much reduced cost. What some will call dumping others call global free enterprise….
This year’s Gulf Coast supply will be “excellent,” LeBreton says, but it will also be delayed thanks to the unusually cold winter in Louisiana. The peak season, he believes, will be pushed back 30 days or so, until the water temperatures rise enough for the crawfish to come out of hiding.
This, of course, partly explains the lack of Louisiana crawfish in our area. There’s just not much supply at present. Plus, most of the demand is down south, where the faithful consume a ton of crawdads during Lent. Combine a low supply with a high pricetag, and you have all the reasons a seafood purveyor needs to seek out cheap Chinese imports.
But the good news is that prices will drop significantly as the water temperatures rise — and the Lenten season comes to a close. “This year the largest price drop will be after Easter Sunday — that is a high crawfish demand day when everyone are having crawfish boils down here,” LeBreton writes.
LeBreton even forwarded two excellent resources on Louisiana mud bugs: the LSU Ag Center‘s crawfish page and the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board’s prototype louisianaseafood.com site, which comes with a handy “finder” tool that will help you locate companies that ship Pelican State crawfish right to your front door.