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Farmers and restaurant owners fear future after 500% price increase on key menu staple: 'It's terrible'

"It'll take four or five years before we get back where we're supposed to be."

"It'll take four or five years before we get back where we're supposed to be."

Photo Credit: iStock

No matter what you call them, crawfish are a way of life in Louisiana and other southern states.

The Cajun delicacy, however, is on the brink. At least this year, diners with a craving for the crustaceans could come up empty. And if you're lucky enough to belly up to a pot stuffed with the suckers, it might cost an arm and a leg.

Also known as crayfish, mudbugs, crawdads, yabbies, and perhaps a dozen other names, crawfish will be in short supply, National Geographic reported Feb. 15. Backyard boilers, beware.

What has cost $2 or $3 per pound along the Gulf Coast over the last few years is now $10 to $20. "Scientists describe the toll on crawfish as one of climate change's impact on food systems," according to Nat Geo. 

Crawfish season is just beginning — harvested from November to July, the spiny lobsters in the South are usually combined with red potatoes and corn on the cob, boiled in Cajun spices, and dumped onto a table for easy pickings or served in simple baskets at shack-style restaurants.

Nat Geo reported the 500% increase will be borne by blue-collar producers, restaurant owners, processors, and delivery truck drivers.

"We've only had 14 days of fishing under our belt since the first of the year, totaling about 2,500 pounds," fourth-generation crawfish farmer Zachary Hebert said. "I haven't even done the numbers, to be honest, because I just don't want to look at them.

"It's terrible."

The Bayou State produces 90% of the country's crawfish on average, per Nat Geo, with crawfish farms covering 300,000 acres (compared to 10,000 in the 1960s). Rising saltwater levels, however, have rendered 25% of that land unusable.

Louisiana is in a perilous position, too, and it could crush the industry. Texas has just 10,000 dedicated crawfish acres; Mississippi has 300.

Almost all of Louisiana was in extreme drought in September, which dried up the freshwater burrows that crawfish call home. Cold weather at the beginning of this year made things worse, pausing feeding and molting processes.

It could cost the state industry $140 million and the wider South even more.

"It'll take four or five years before we get back where we're supposed to be," Hebert said.

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