If you’ve read Sam Irwin’s Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean, you know that there are all sorts of issues that affect crawfish availability and pricing.
In order for live crawfish prices to go down, producers need someone to purchase the smaller crawfish, commonly called peelers, so those crawfish can be peeled for the tailmeat demand. Restaurants need fresh crawfish tailmeat for their bisque, etouffee, fried crawfish and other dishes.
Here’s the thing: who is going to peel the crawfish?
Crawfish processing plants like Bonanza Crawfish and Atchafalya Crawfish in Henderson, La. can’t get enough local workers to peel crawfish, so they hire foreign workers through a federal government plan called the H2B visa program. Under the federal H2B visa program, employers can temporarily hire foreign workers for non-agricultural jobs. There’s a cap of 60,000 workers on the number of visas allowed.
The H2B plan covers a number of jobs for other industries including hotel maid service, carnival workers and crawfish peelers among others, but this year the number was reached before crawfish season even began. Gillary Patin, the owner of the Bonanza Crawfish Processing Plant, said the majority of crawfish consumers don’t understand how difficult it will be to get the labor to peel crawfish. Patin said the labor issue will affect everyone including fishermen, consumers, and the suppliers who provide packing boxes, crawfish sacks and plastic packing bags.
“We can provide Louisiana crawfish because the product is available and it’s going to be available with a good supply with no labor to produce it because of the government.”
Patin says he worries the big problem will come this summer. Restaurants won’t be able to find local crawfish, forcing them to take it off the menu all together, or worse, replace it with frozen Chinese crawfish.
Crawfish Report’s best advice? Be sure to ask if the crawfish in the etouffee is Louisiana crawfish and is the crawfish fresh. Crawfish Report’s definition of fresh means “never been frozen.” Ask before you eat! It’s the law!
Crawfish Report also heartily recommends that Louisiana Crawfish: A Succulent History of the Cajun Crustacean be required reading for all Louisiana residents.