PASCAGOULA -- Crawfish are plentiful early in the season. Prices are down.
It's a great time to buy and eat.
Keith Delcambre, owner of Bozo's Seafood Market in Pascagoula, said his price per pound is $1.30 lower than it was when the season started in mid-November.
Live, they were $2.80 a pound at his store Tuesday. Boiled, they were $3.59. Elsewhere on the Coast, the average is $3.23 per pound live and $4.25 boiled -- $4.09 if you buy more than 10 pounds.
Delcambre predicts the price will stay down through most of January, barring a major freeze, then jump at the end of the month with the demand that comes with the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, and Mardi Gras on Feb. 9.
But even that kind of demand may not affect the price much, said longtime crawfish distributor Kevin Kidder with St. Martin Seafood Inc. of Breaux Bridge, La. He supplies seafood for markets all along the Gulf Coast.
"Crawfish caught good early this year," he said. That means they came out of the ground and entered the traps. Colder weather means they stay in the ground and eat less.
"We had mild weather and plenty of rain," he said, "so production was good."
Kidder said it would take a hard freeze of four to five days to affect production. He predicts mild weather will keep prices down even for the Super Bowl, one of the top crawfish-boiling days of the year. Others, seafood sellers say, are Mardi Gras, Easter, Mother's Day and Memorial Day.
The season is mid-November to July for the freshwater mud bugs.
"I've been in it 30 years," Kidder said. "It's hard to figure out crawfish. It's a crop, like any crop. Usually, mild weather means cheap prices and plenty of crawfish and that's the way it's looking. But I'm just an old Cajun."
Seasonal labor for picking crawfish meat also affects the prices and quality at markets.
Without people to pick, more of the small mud bugs go to stores, he said, and that's what the Coast markets saw last year.
This year, processing plants should be able to hire enough laborers, he said. That will mean the smaller crawfish will go to processing plants, and the seafood markets will see larger, better-quality crawfish.
Coast seafood markets buy crawfish essentially from the same group of growers in Louisiana, Delcambre said. He's been in the business of selling them since before Louisiana began delivering to the Coast in the mid-1980s. Before that, he said, they drove to Louisiana to bring back sacks.
Delcambre remembers when 10 pounds sold for just under $10. He never thought he'd see people paying $35 to $50 for 10 pounds of crawfish, "but they do," he said.
At $2.80 a pound, a sack of crawfish (which is about 33 pounds) will cost $92.
"When you pay $100 for a sack of crawfish, you want them pretty bad," he said.
He predicts with Easter coming early this year, crawfish will stay up in price through Lent and then go down after Easter.
Last year, suppliers sold hundreds of sacks for Memorial Day, cooking hundreds of pounds a day leading up to the holiday.
"There's a lot of factors in crawfish," he said, "a lot of factors."
But the factors and the stars have aligned for the Coast, so far this season. Instead of one or two loads a week coming in, they are already coming in daily.
"We got in five sacks of crawfish on Sunday, and by Monday afternoon, we were sold out," he said. "We'll get more in tomorrow."
Mary Perez, Sun Herald reporter, contributed to this report.