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Crawfish Could Help Louisiana's Seafood Industry, Hobbled by Oil Spill

Louisiana State University Professor Greg Lutz

The ugly looking - but tasty - Louisiana crawfish is deeply linked to the state's culture and economy. Crawfish is related to shrimp, lobster and crabs. It grows in fresh water; the most common type is a seasonal favorite in the Mississippi Delta. Now, a researcher is looking at a different Louisiana crawfish that could expand the season and help the seafood industry, devastated by the oil spill.

Like many migrant workers from Mexico, Jose Palacios is collecting the last batch of crawfish harvested this year.

"I am pulling out the traps now,"said Jose Palacios. "All I got was these two bags."

Crawfish is harvested in fresh water, like in this Louisiana rice field. It's a staple - but a seasonal one.

When the crawfish season ends, around June, the traps are pulled out and the rice season begins.

"Over the last 10 to 15 years, we produced anywhere between 70 and 100 million pounds of crawfish, with a value of anywhere between $80 to 120 million," said Greg Lutz.

Louisiana State University Professor Greg Lutz has studied crawfish species and the industry for 30 years. The hope is that another type of crawfish - also grown in fresh water -can expand the season and help bail out Louisiana's Gulf coast seafood industry, crippled by the oil.

"We are looking at trying to extend the crawfish season," he said. "We are looking at different methods of growing them and we are looking at an alternative species that may be available in a different time of the year."

Here at LSU's Aquaculture Research Station in Baton Rouge, in its ponds and tanks, Lutz is studying another native crawfish.

"This is that alternative species of crawfish," said Lutz. "They lay their eggs in the winter and early spring and they grow all through the summer, so the ideal would be to have crawfish just in time for football season. These are babies and this little species is called shrimp crawfish."

When they're full grown, they can be up to ten centimeters long.

"A female this size right here could have about 300 eggs, maybe 400," he said.

Lutz is also studying native plants that would be best suited as the shrimp crawfish's main source of food.

"All of these pools have different combinations of vegetation that we are evaluating and they all have baby shrimp crawfish," explained Greg Lutz.

He says if all goes right, in two or three years shrimp crawfish could become commercial.

"So we have a native crawfish and native vegetation and hopefully we can augment the production season for crawfish producers," he said.

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, the southeastern United States has the greatest diversity of crawfish in the world, with Louisiana at the top. Crawfish is not only desired by humans. It has all kinds of predators.

"Everybody eats crawfish, even turkeys," he said.

In fact, the state of Louisiana consumes almost all of its crawfish.

But if the research yields results, the ungainly crawfish could become a seafood favorite all year long.