Crawfish farmers plan to expand production with increased global craving for Cajun food

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Across the nation, people have learned what many Louisianans have understood for a long time: crawfish are delicious.

"All across the United States people have begun to learn and to enjoy crawfish," said Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Mike Strain. "We are exporting a tremendous amount of our product."

Strain said the spread of the Creole and Cajun taste is being encouraged by the ambassadors who know mudbugs best.

"We have over 4,000 people that either farm crawfish or catch crawfish in the wild, and you're looking at an industry now that is a quarter of a billion dollars, $250 million a year," said Strain.

Lafourche Parish crawfish and sugar cane farmer Ralph Babin said the industry seemed to max out with local demand, but it's now on the rise globally.

"Sometimes we catch, and if there's an oversupply they'd be held back. So, we have potential where we could catch more, and it's just that demand is not there. So, that's why we are spreading to other states," said Babin.

And where the crawfish go, the extra flavor follows.

"Zatarain's in general and New Orleans flavor has really spread over the last four to five years across the nation," said Zatarain's General Manager Michael Morse.

Morse said a 125-year-old New Orleans tradition now seasons the shelves and the cuisine in cities with a new Cajun craving.

"Chicago has been a really big market for Zatarain's over the last several years. New York, Baltimore, Washington is a big area where we've seen a lot of growth and a lot of request for that New Orleans flavor," said Morse. "We lead on every one of our boxes, it's Zatarain's: a New Orleans Tradition. We are very proud of New Orleans cuisine, and so that's a huge part of who we are. After 125-years starting in Uptown New Orleans, that's who we are as a brand. We're a New Orleans brand bringing New Orleans flavors to consumers all across the country."

Requests come from those ready to pinch their first tails. However, Babin said, requests most often come from those who had to move away, but brought their love for Louisiana with them.

"What we've found is that people have moved out from Louisiana because of Katrina. So, these people move out and went to the other states, but they still want their crawfish. We just have to promote it so that we can make sure that it is available in those states," said Babin.

Though China has caught on to the trend and now exports its crawfish to the U.S., Strain said local crawfish quality will boil the competition.

"The thing about the Chinese crawfish, our crawfish are superior. They're fresh, they have superior flavor. Louisiana crawfish and American crawfish will always be superior to the imported crawfish," said Strain.

Also, Strain said, do not worry. As more Louisiana crawfish is exported, there will still be plenty for Louisianans.

"We will grow the market. We are going to grow our farms, we're growing production, and we're keeping our wetlands and our wild crawfish. That is a sustainable natural resource. So, I tell people don't worry, but eat them when you get them," said Strain.

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