Basin crawfishermen seek aid
State Senator Fred Mills and representatives of Atchafalaya Basin crawfishermen are trying to remedy an unfair rule that leaves harvesters of wild crawfish out of the federal CARES Act COVID-19 relief program.
The Corona Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) program has earmarked about $32 billon of its estimated $2 trillion federal dollars to provide relief for agricultural industries. But provisions of the act have inexplicably been drawn to leave wild crawfish producers out of any relief funding from the program, making funds available to “pond” crawfish producers only.
The Teche News spoke to Henderson Mayor Pro Temp Jody Meche, who is a Basin wild crawfisherman, Basinkeeper board member, president of the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association West, and vice chairman of Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board. Meche made the point that wild-caught crawfish producers are at the heart of the state’s crawfish industry.
“Right now, most of my catch is going to crawfish farmers to seed their ponds for next year’s crop,” he told the Teche News. “We are essential to the entire industry, including the pond farmers.”
A letter from Mills seeking the support of U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins contends that the market makes no distinction between wild-caught and pond-raised crawfish at the point of sale.
“There is no distinction between the two when the crawfish are sold and there is no distinction on the damage the COVID-19 has had on the industry,” Mills writes. “If there is stimulus relief available to the crawfish industry, everyone who lawfully participates in the industry should be eligible to participate.”
A clear defense of the omission of wild producers from the CARES Act relief has not been made and Meche thinks it may be a mistaken belief that their losses would be hard to prove and it would be difficult to eliminate fraudulent claims. But the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries’ “trip ticket” record-keeping program and extensive licensing requirements make that a hard case to argue.
Meche, working alone, sets 350 to 400 traps at a time, sometimes as many as 700. His operating expenses are $300 to $400 per day, and the COVID crisis has dropped the price below the break-even level at a critical time for producers. He said that COVID could spell the end for many Basin crawfishermen.
If that happened, it could hasten the demise of a strenuous, but environmentally-sustainable way of life that is part of the very definition of the unique Cajun culture of Louisiana. With it would go some of the most effective defenders of the Atchafalaya Basin’s traditional way of life and priceless wild habitats.