How a crawfish shortage is hitting Austin restaurants this spring

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Bad news, Austin: The ongoing drought and last year’s extreme heat is spelling trouble for seafood restaurants this crawfish season.

Louisiana is the nation’s number one supplier of crawfish, with the state producing about 250,000 acres’ worth of crawfish each year. Comparatively, Texas usually only supplies about 20,000 acres each season, said Madison Gessner, executive director for the Texas Restaurant Association’s Central/South region.

“The drought has taken a big toll on this year’s production,” Gessner said. “We’re seeing a much smaller supply for our Texas restaurants and consumers, and higher prices. So, prices are currently in the $13 to $16 range per pound, versus this time last year, it was like $9 to $12 per pound.”

For Austin restaurants, the permeating effects of the drought have created a critical situation ahead of Fat Tuesday and amid the thick of peak crawfish season.

“I’ve been here 21 years now and it will be the worst season I’ve ever seen,” said Carol Huntsberger, owner of Quality Seafood in Austin. “We’ve overharvested way too early in the season, which doesn’t leave enough crawfish when they could be really good towards the end of the season in April and May.”

With limited supply and high demand, Gessner said restaurant operators have worked to connect with multiple seafood vendors in search of crawfish. Even when supplies are secured, the dwindling availability has led to skyrocketing costs for both restaurants and customers alike.

Huntsberger echoed that same sentiment, saying one farmer she spoke with said farmers can harvest about 1,200 pounds of crawfish from 200 traps placed. Just last week, those traps only secured about 150 pounds of crawfish, she said.

Huntsberger added while some restaurants are trying to bring in supplies now, she said the quality of the crawfish are less ideal now. She added many of the available crawfish are too weak to travel and haven’t molted yet, resulting in softer and lower-quality seafood.

“There’s no reason to just, in my opinion, kill those little animals, knowing that they’re not going to make it, right?” she said. “So we always, at Quality, don’t start bringing them in until they’ve gone through a molting phase where they’re harder.”

Instead, Huntsberger said she hopes more customers will lean into shrimp boils this spring, which can not only keep the spirit of spring boils alive but also help another impacted seafood industry.

As restaurants continue to grapple with COVID-19-related impacts, she said domestic shrimp suppliers are struggling to compete with international suppliers in Asia. Paired with the higher costs of labor and transport-related fuel, many shrimping company boats aren’t bringing in nearly the same volume of money.

While crawfish supplies are less than ideal this season, Huntsberger said now’s the time and opportunity to support other seafood industries while hoping for a better crawfish season come 2025.

“If we can help the shrimpers this year, do shrimp boils, make it be awesome — potatoes, corn and sausage and shrimp,” she said. “And then we just pray that we have the rain we need, we don’t have another freeze, and we can get it through and have a great crawfish season next year.”

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