By Aaron Lee, LSU AgLeadership Class XV member
I have been around crawfish production from the day I was born and all this time, I never realized that the same industry is thriving thousands of miles from our farm in southern Vermilion Parish! I have heard before now that there was crawfish in this area of the world, but until this trip, I had no idea that the crawfish in Spain are the Louisiana Red Swamp Crawfish; the same crawfish we have back home. They were introduced there in the mid 1970s when a group from Spain heard of them and brought some back from the Monroe area of Louisiana. It turns out that the area that they turned them loose in was an excellent environment for crawfish to thrive in and now, they have pretty much exploded in population.
Although we weren't able to see any harvest or processing while on our trip, the cultivation of crawfish in Spain is pretty much the same process we have back home in Louisiana. They live in the rice fields and are caught in traps that look like miniature hoop nets, instead of pyramid traps like we use. Here in Spain, though, unlike at home, the rice farmers are not the ones who fish for crawfish. I learned that the rice farmer owns the rice crop and the land, but when there is water on the fields, it becomes a public waterway where anyone can walk into the fields and set traps to catch crawfish.
In regards to the processing of the catch, we visited the largest crawfish processing facility in Europe called Alfocan. The owner told us there are two main harvest seasons, one lasting from March through July, which is there largest season, and another smaller season from September through November. They explained that unlike back in Louisiana, there is no live crawfish market. This means every crawfish caught has to be peeled or boiled and packaged whole. The reason is because it is against European Union law for people to transport live crawfish to other parts of Spain. The EU considers the Louisiana Red Swamp Crawfish an invasive species and does not want people to let them go in waterways not yet inhabited by Louisiana crawfish.
The processing of the crawfish is very similar to the processing back in Louisiana. All the crawfish are graded by size, washed, and then boiled. After the crawfish are boiled, they are either peeled or packaged whole in the shell. They told us the crawfish that are packaged whole are destined for the European market and most of the peeled crawfish meat is destined for the U.S. They told us that around 50% of their product is exported to the U.S. and the other 50% is destined for the Europe market.
Out of all the places visited on our trip, this one was the one that hit closest to home for me. It really made me think about our crawfish industry back home and made me think about how certain things can be done differently. I personally think that Louisiana crawfish farmers need to get together and find a way to take back the market share that is being lost to overseas crawfish. It just doesn't make sense to me that there is enough demand for crawfish meat in the U.S. to justify importing crawfish from across the world, while Louisiana crawfishermen are having a very hard time selling and moving peeler crawfish right in the middle of crawfish country!