The coronavirus pandemic has affected numerous industries, and the crawfish industry is no exception. The crawfish industry felt the devastating effect in the past year of quarantine and lockdown restrictions. What set the wheels in motion was the shutdown of dine-in restaurants. Then, the inability to host backyard crawfish boils last spring exacerbated matters.
Between shutdowns and the inability to gather, the backlog of crawfish became significant. The Louisiana State University Agricultural Center found in March of 2020 that producers were only able to sell around 10% to 15% of their crawfish catch. The center suggested that Louisianians buy crawfish. Then, in turn, they recommended Louisianians freeze their crawfish for use within three months.
Farmers in the crawfish industry needed to re-evaluate business models during the pandemic. Some farmers delivered live crawfish by driving up to three hours to consumers’ homes. The backlog related to restaurants only offering take-out and delivery options. Prior to COVID-19, these and similar establishments like bars and casinos often ordered 30 sacks of crawfish at once.
The Current State of the Fishing Industry
The state of the crawfish industry is an undeniable sign of the times. The U.S. fishing and seafood sector generated significant numbers in recent years. The numbers amounted to greater than $200 billion in annual sales. The sector also supported 1.7 million jobs. Once COVID-19 hit, NOAA Fisheries noted broad declines.
The declines are unique based on sector, region and industry. However, analysts determined that COVID-19 health and safety measures related to the declines. These measures, not just enforced in the United States but globally, affected seafood sector sales. Therefore, it is not surprising that specific fishing industries are struggling. The inability to run processing plants also undercuts the industry. Travel restrictions placed on workers from other countries is one problem of many that industry workers encountered last year.
Changes to Crawfish Price
These realities inevitably affected the 2020 market prices. Additionally, the price per pound of crawfish significantly declined last year. Last March before the lockdowns began, the average medium-large sized boiled crawfish was about $4.99 per pound. Once the pandemic fully hit, the price dropped $1.50 and landed at $3.49 per pound.
The cost of live crawfish also felt the weight of the pandemic. By the end of March 2020, prices reached $1.99 per pound for medium-sized crawfish. The cost of a large crawfish was down to $2.99 per pound. Ultimately, the short-term decline in crawfish prices will result in a longer term problem. The crawfish industry pumps $300 million into the Louisiana economy. The industry also supports 7,000 local families.
What hurt businesses and business owners further was the timing. When the World Health Organization declared a pandemic about a month before Easter, catering businesses were undercut as well. Businesses who would purchase crawfish were unable to deliver to group gatherings that were no longer possible. Overall, the pandemic occurring at the peak of the season has longer and larger implications.