Louisiana Crawfish: An Unknown Season

By | November 30, 2020

LAKE CHARLES, La. — Good ol’ fashioned Southern cooking. It’s just one of the many reasons why thousands of people pack their bags and visit the Gulf Coast each year.

Palomino holds out a crawfish we found while out on his boat.
Palomino holds out a crawfish we found while out on his boat.

But if you’ve had the chance to visit Louisiana, then you’ll know that no meal is complete without crawfish, one of Louisiana’s most iconic delicacies.

The Louisiana crawfish industry dates back to the late 1800s, having a deep-rooted history in the state.

According to the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board, the industry generates up to $300 million in revenue each year.

Louisiana boil -- a delicacy.
Louisiana boil — a delicacy.

While this crop is extremely important to the Louisiana economy, it also brings nostalgic memories to millions of residents who grew up eating crawfish. The mayor of Lake Charles, Nic Hunter, says the meal reminds him of his childhood.

But while some grow up eating crawfish, many grow up watching their family raise these crops.

“I grew up in a restaurant family, and my grandmother loved to make crawfish etouffee at the house and Louisiana crawfish and Louisiana rice was always an absolute necessity,” said Hunter. “That specific industry is very important to south Louisiana, not only for the jobs it provides directly but also to restaurants and our culinary institutions.”

Palomino trudges through the Louisiana swampland.
Palomino trudges through the Louisiana swampland.

For Devin Palomino, this industry was part of his upbringing. As a child, he would help his grandmother fish her two and a half-acre pond.

“As a young kid, I took interest in it and in high school took over that small pond she fished,” he said.

While this two-and-a-half-acre pond was eventually replaced by his now 233-acre farm, his years of experience never prepared him for his greatest challenge: hurricane season.

On Aug. 29 and Oct. 10, two of the strongest storms, category 4 Hurricane Laura and category 3 Hurricane Delta, both set their eyes on Lake Charles, impacting Palomino’s farm and the upcoming crawfish season.

“Laura was by far the most devastating hurricane I’ve ever seen. We had a lot of wind damage, and we had some rice that got damaged and it wasn’t that bad,” he said, “But when Delta hit the excessive amount of rainfall that we caught during that period of time, a lot of fields were flooded.”

According to Palomino, while rice crops do need water to live, the uprooted rice damage from Laura and the massive amounts of water from Delta provided a recipe for disaster, creating unhealthy water levels and a decreased oxygen level.

It’s decaying. It’s starting to rot.

The crawfish feed off these crops, but this toxic concoction is killing them off.

“With the unhealthy crop, you’re going to have rice laying down in the water or vegetation, but under those bare spots is just dead rice under the water,” he said. “It’s decaying. It’s starting to rot.”

Circle 7 hopes to be able to keep local crawfish on the menu after the hurricanes.
Circle 7 hopes to be able to keep local crawfish on the menu after the hurricanes.

According to Palomino, if his rice crops do not survive the aftermath from both hurricanes, he could lose up to $100,000.

Restaurants, such as Circle 7, that rely on Palomino for crawfish might have to raise their prices if he cannot produce as many crawfish this season.

“You know, his prices are going to be off of what it takes to maintain his farm and what it’s going to take to keep it going,” said the Owner of Circle 7, Antonio Jamar Duhon. “If the prices are too expensive. You know, we have to raise the prices here in the restaurant business just to make it worth it.”

Palomino is not losing hope though. He is doing everything he can to still make this productive crawfish season.