Market Influences 101

Crawfish markets have changed considerably since the mid-1980s when crawfish were sold without consideration of size. The development of an export market in Scandinavia in the late 1980s for crawfish 15 count (number per pound) or larger provided the first impetus for size grading. Louisiana’s export markets for crawfish were eventually lost to competition from China, but size grading remained and is widely used in the domestic market. Size grading is usually not done early in the production season when supply is low and demand is high for crawfish of all sizes, but as the volume of crawfish increases in early spring and the demand for large crawfish increases, size grading becomes standard practice. Nearly all grading occurs at wholesale outlets or processing plants and is done with modified vegetable graders or custom-made graders.

There are no uniform size and grade standards for the crawfish industry as there are for other seafoods, and this hinders market development and expansion. Crawfish are usually graded into two or three size classes. The largest crawfish are sold to specialty restaurants and the smaller ones processed for abdominal meat or mixed with larger individuals for large volume sales. Table 1 illustrates a grading system commonly used in Louisiana. Other grading systems also are used by crawfish wholesalers, depending on their markets.

The marketing of domestic crawfish has been complicated in recent years by the importation of crawfish products. Millions of pounds of frozen, processed meat and whole, boiled procambarid crawfish, are imported into the U.S. each year, mainly from China. Although a tariff has been imposed by the U.S.

Department of Commerce on much of the imported Chinese crawfish meat, the U.S. industry has suffered, with an almost 90 percent reduction in processing (peeling) capacity in Louisiana. As a consequence, each year thousands of tons of smaller crawfish are not harvested for lack of adequate live markets and processing infrastructure. Although the demand for crawfish in Louisiana is high and markets are expanding in adjacent states, crawfish must compete with products such as shrimp, prawns, lobster and crabs in the national market. Outside Louisiana, crawfish is not a traditional food. But because crawfish imports have made the product available year-round and stabillized prices, the national market may be expanding. The growing popularity of southern Louisiana Cajun and Creole cuisine throughout the U.S. may also encourage market expansion.