To begin understanding crawfish, it’s worth starting with the culture and harvest. A lot of the Cajun country crawfish business involves growing them in ”ponds” – really flooded depressions fed with bayou water and held in place with an earthen levee. We went to visit Mike Clay’s pond, where he’s been growing and (after a fashion) breeding crawfish since 1985. Shown above is Mike’s pond, with crawfisherman Robbie Guidry getting ready to make a harvest.
Incidentally, Mike, shown here, is also the 2013 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival king. Crawfish from his pond have also won the festival’s crawfish races for the last dozen years or so. From every haul, Mike selects a few fast movers for training, which is why he has crawfish crawling around on his rubber gloves, as shown below.
Crawfishing is deceptively simple. A crawfish trap is a funnel-shaped wire mesh basket into which the fisherman throws bait – in this case half a small fish. Like lobsters, crawfish are scavengers and they will crawl into the trap to feed on the bait, only to find they can’t crawl out. On Clay’s pond the traps are set on twin posts. The fisherman places a trap on a blank post, then hauls the trap on the adjacent post and dumps the crawfish either into buckets or a sorting table. Here’s a photo of Robbie holding up a trap with a few dozen crawfish inside.
It’s a monotonous task, but the crawfish pile up quickly. On the sorting table they are cleaned of debris (including the fish bones from the bait) and scooted into sacks that end up weighing 35-40 pounds. The sacks are then covered with wet burlap to keep the crawfish cool through evaporation.
Once they are delivered to a processor, that operation will wash the crawfish with clean fresh water before boiling them for a carefully controlled time and then chilling the cooked crustaceans. Here at CJ Seafood, they then peel the chilled crawfish and package the tail meat in vacuum bags for sale. Like the fishing, peeling is monotonous, but the crawfish peelers who do it work swiftly. For what it’s worth, the staff at CJ Seafood pack about 16,000 pounds (that’s eight tons) of crawfish meat a day.