When driving through Tunica around the middle of April, if you are greeted by the sting of cayenne pepper and the sound of classic rock music, it’s Crawfish Alley weekend. This year, the quiet downtown area will erupt into a festival offering entertainment to suit anyone’s needs. The 25th annual Rivergate Festival offers live music, arts and crafts, carnival rides for the kids, barbecue, and crawfish.
Crawfish Alley started 20 years when several local men bought 300 pounds of crawfish to raise money for repairing the community swimming pool. They realized how successful it was, and everyone wanted more. Since the second year, the profit from the festival has been donated to Tunica Academy. The number of crawfish cooked has doubled every year until the amount reached around 10,000 pounds. This fundraiser has now grown into a full-blown party, with about 30 volunteers working to cook and serve over 12,000 pounds of crawfish, corn, sausage, and potatoes to a multitude of people looking to satisfy their craving for spice and crawfish. The “Crawfish Crew” built a boiler with two propane burners, which generate 2 million btus to cook the crawfish quickly and keep the customers happy under the big green tent.
Recently, I learned more about the crawfish industry and its benefits from Greg Faulk, a farmer near Crowley, La., and Brian Breaux of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation along with reading information on the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board’s website.
Ninety-five percent of crawfish raised in Louisiana comes from flooded rice fields. The remaining 5 percent comes from the Atchafalaya Basin. This growing industry has doubled in acreage in the last 15 years and is now close to 200,000 acres annually. Twenty to 50 pounds of crawfish are released per acre in mid-May and will burrow three feet in the ground to spend the summer. Starting in October, crawfish will begin to emerge from the ground and the mothers will each release between 200 and 500 young crawfish. Traps are set about 300 yards apart in December, and harvest of a new crop of crawfish typically begins the third or fourth week of the month. The traps are emptied and reset every two days until June.
Crawfish crops have made rice farming in southern Louisiana much more profitable, by supplementing the income from the rice harvest with the tasty mudbugs.
Everyone’s first comment at a crawfish boil is about the size. Faulk explained “it’s not about raising a crawfish crop; it’s about raising large ones.”
The Crawfish Crew hopes to see you on April 20-22 in downtown Tunica. Come check out this year’s crawfish crop. You will find something for the whole family to enjoy. If you hear the siren, you are getting close and the Crew has crawfish ready. The Crew cooks crawfish until it runs out on Saturday, so come early. For more information, please visit our Facebook page, Crawfish Alley 2017, and be sure to check out the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board for recipes and to learn more about the crawfish you enjoy and where they originate.
Photos courtesy of Brealyn Ware Photography (@brealynwarephotography)