Crayfish Harvesting: Alternative Opportunities for Landowners Practicing Moist-soil Wetland Management

Author(s): Alford, A.; Grado, S.; Kaminski, R.

Harvest of crayfish (Procambarus spp.) for human consumption in the United States and beyond is considerable, amounting to an annual value of $150-170 million annually in the southern United States alone. Most crayfish harvested for human consumption are cultivated in rice fields in southern Louisiana. Management of emergent vegetation in moist-soil wetlands is similar to cultivation of rice where the seasonal wet-dry cycle of these wetlands encourages the growth of annual plants that produce abundant seeds and tubers for waterfowl forage. Recent aquatic invertebrate studies in moist-soil wetlands suggest that populations of crayfish in these habitats may be large enough to warrant a harvest for human consumption. To estimate the economic potential of crayfish harvests in moist-soil wetlands, crayfish yield was estimated from moist-soil wetlands on public and private lands in the MAV in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri in spring-summer 2009-2011 using typical crayfish harvest strategies practiced in commercial rice-crayfish fields of Louisiana. Average daily yields of crayfish from moist-soil wetlands ranged from 0.08 kg/ha to 23 kg/ha with an overall mean yield of 2.73 kg/ha (n = 42, CV = 21%). Whereas the mean daily yield of crayfish from moist-soil wetlands was >3 times less than the yield expected from a high production rice-crayfish culture system (e.g., 8-10 kg/ha), estimated cost associated with harvest of crayfish from moist-soil wetlands were $529/ha and were lower compared to costs associated rice-crayfish harvest practices which were estimated to be $1,856/ha. However, the estimated break-even selling price for crayfish harvested from moist-soil wetlands was $4.90/kg compared to $2.75/kg estimated for rice-crayfish practices. The estimates of break-even selling prices for crayfish harvested from moist-soil wetlands were higher than the 2012 estimate of $2.75/kg price for single crop production of crayfish in Louisiana. However, in areas where crayfish markets are sparse, such as the North Mississippi Delta, landowners may still realize economic potential from this fishery. Harvesting crayfish from moist-soil wetlands may provide a small profit to landowners but will likely provide additional recreational opportunities and can serve as additional extension vehicles to encourage wetlands conservation throughout the MAV.

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