Stocking Up:

Pond Prep Begins for 2013 Crawfish Harvest!

crawfish for stock

By Patrick Bonin

Heading into May, crawfish season is going strong, but preparations are already underway to make sure next year’s mudbug crop will keep folks busy pinching tails in 2013.

At Frugé Aquafarms in Branch, La., the process of stocking mature crawfish into next year’s ponds is just about to begin. The farm operates on 2,400 acres, with half producing rice and half producing crawfish in a typical year.

That means 1,200 acres of freshly planted rice fields are just about ready to accept the breeding stock of crawfish which will mature into next year’s mudbug crop. (Rice typically grows in flooded fields, which work out well for simultaneous crawfish production.)

“We planted rice in March, and it’s about 12 to 18 inches tall now, which is high enough to keep the water in those ponds cool,” said Mark Frugé, co-owner of Frugé Aquafarms. “Crawfish can’t survive if the water temperature gets too hot. At this time of year, they’re genetically programmed to start breeding and burrowing. It works out well because the crawfish are just about ready to go into the ground, and the rice is ready to accept them.”

On average, the ponds are seeded with about 50 pounds of mature red swamp crawfish per acre. At Frugé Aquafarms, that translates into about 60,000 pounds of crawfish necessary to stock all of the ponds for next year’s crop!

“Typically we use smaller mature crawfish to stock,” he said. “The smaller crawfish are not only harder to market, but you get more animals per pound, so that gives us a better percentage of stocking success.”

At the farm’s wholesale dock each afternoon, smaller crawfish that were harvested in the morning are sacked and then released along the levees of next year’s ponds that same afternoon. Over the next several weeks, all of the ponds will gradually receive the crawfish they need to create the 2013 crop. And even though they might be small, the crawfish are mature and can reproduce.

“At this time of year, all of the crawfish we catch are mature, whereas a month ago, it was a smaller percentage,” Mark said. “They’re converting to a reproductive mode right now. When they’re introduced into the new ponds, they’ll move around a bit and then start burrowing.”

After they breed, burrowing allows the crawfish to escape the heat of summer and also stay out of harm’s way during harvesting of the rice crop.

“When the rice matures around mid-July, we will release the water from the fields and dry them out,” Mark said. “The rice harvest typically starts in the first week of August. “

After the rice harvest is completed, any necessary levee repairs are completed before re-flooding the rice stubble in late September.

“That water draws them up out of their burrows, and provides the baby crawfish with an excellent food source and ideal growing conditions in the cooler fall months,” he said. “They’ll be ready for harvest when crawfish season starts back up next January. Then we’ll start the whole process all over again.”

So enjoy the rest of this year’s season – there’s still plenty of great crawfish to be had in the coming weeks. But rest assured we’re already hard at work to make 2013 a banner year for crawfish lovers everywhere!