High Mississippi River brings unexpected crawfish population explosion

High Mississippi River brings unexpected crawfish population explosion

PLAQUEMINES PARISH, La. (WVUE) - This year’s crawfish season might stretch just a little bit longer thanks to an unexpected find -- crawfish by the thousands being harvested on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish.

Foster Creppel, a coastal activist, steered his boat through the closest thing you might find to white water in South Louisiana’s Mardi Gras Pass.

“The current’s moving pretty fast out here,” he said.

Several years ago, the Mississippi River blew through its banks here and reconnected with an old canal. What began as a small waterfall, dropping from the river into the canal, is now a raging distributary of the river.

“You can see sandbars out here,” Creppel said. “There are islands where there weren’t islands before.”

Creppel and other activists see Mardi Gras Pass as a sort of free restoration project, where a portion of the river could run free of levees and feed land-building sediment into the surrounding marsh.

Many commercial fishermen take a much darker view of the pass, which feeds billions and billions of gallons of fresh water and nutrients into bays on the river’s east side.

However, a couple miles away, some fishermen discovered crawfish in a place where there, doubtless, has not been such a population since the building of the river levees.

Clarence Smith of Lafayette usually works with in the mudbug capital of the world, the Atchafalaya Basin, but Monday (June 24), Smith was loading crawfish onto an oyster boat loaded down with hundreds of sacks.

“Oh, there’s no comparison [to the basin]," Smith said. "It’s better over here.”

While the season is coming to a close in southwestern Louisiana, the crawfish in Plaquemines appear to be near their peak.

"This area’s covered with fresh water right now and it’s covered with crawfish and they’re catching, literally, hundreds of sacks of crawfish out here,” Creppel said.

While the extremely high Mississippi River led to this year’s bounty, Creppel argues it shows the potential for a system that would be more fresh if the state follows through with plans to build larger river diversions on both banks of the Mississippi.

“Look at the possibilities of what’s to come. If we had a very healthy delta again, you’d have lots of people working in the crawfish industry,” Creppel said.

Mardi Gras Pass remains a source of controversy, one of several areas on the Plaquemines Parish east bank where fishermen complain fresh water and fertilizer pollution are damaging oysters and other marine life.

In the past, the Plaquemines Parish government has pushed for closure of the canal, but that becomes a potentially more expensive proposition as the pass expands.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, responsible for navigation on the Mississippi River, has said it is monitoring Mardi Gras Pass, but that the opening poses no problem for ship traffic at the moment.

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