Deep water crawfish farming shows promise

by | Nov 4, 2020

North Carolina might not be known for its crawfish farming, but a new technique to the state might help to change that.

Crawfish farming is a staple industry in places like Louisiana, and North Carolina is home to at least 40 different kinds of the miniature crustacean. In North Carolina the most common method of farming for crawfish is to use relatively shallow pools of water, unlike the deep rivers which Louisiana fishermen use to catch the animals in their natural habitats.

However, there are a small group of NC farmers beginning to use the deep water fishing method, a technique relatively new to North Carolina which more closely mimics the conditions of those Louisiana rivers.

Sandra Parnell, owner of Eastern NC Crawfish Farm in Kenly, is one of those farmers. Parnell, who previously farmed crawfish more as a hobby, opened the farm in 2015 after talking with the Chowan County Agricultural Extension and learning a bit more about deep water farming. The method, she said, has some substantial upsides over the more traditional practices.

“Most farmers here who traditional farm have to stop harvesting around the end of July. They’ll have to drain their ponds and plant a crop, but I do not. That’s the biggest difference, it makes us have a longer season,” she said. “We come into season around May, and we generally run until about the end of September or the first of October. The crawfish still reproduce around then, they reproduce all year, but they breed more around then. That’s your next years crop, so you just want to let them reseed themselves.”

That reseeding is a big part of what makes deep water farming attractive. In more traditional shallow pools, the pools must be manually reseeded by the farmer each year, which takes time and money that deep water farmers do not have to expend.

A longer season also means more time spent working on just the crawfish farming operation, which makes it easier to improve and streamline the process.

“Not only do I get to focus more on it, I don’t have to have a ton of employees to do it. I don’t have to have someone come and run a tractor or plant a crop, or pay someone to come back later and get that crop up. I just don’t have the same kinds of expenses that a traditional farmer would have,” she said. “Even though I do drain a pond down every once and a while just to check on them, we still don’t have the same kinds of costs. It’s something that one or two people can do.”

Deep water farming does come with some challenges, mostly to do with how new it is in North Carolina. The method uses traps shaped like pillows – fittingly called pillow traps – with inverted funnels at each end to allow crawfish to enter but make it difficult to escape. Those traps are different from the pyramid-shaped traps used by traditional farmers in NC, and getting a hold of them or the materials to make them can prove difficult.

“The biggest hurdle here in North Carolina, you cannot get the metal to build those traps here. None of the Agri Supply or Tractor Supply stores carry the specific three-quarter inch chicken wire style metal that you need to make those,” Parnell said. “When we get it, we have to order it from Louisiana.”

Even that can be a struggle, Parnell said, because often times distributors won’t ship the wire unless customers buy in bulk, which can land farmers with far more material than they have space for.

“Unless you actually go down to Louisiana and buy it, these companies don’t mind selling it to you but you’ve got to buy a whole pallet,” she said. “I just don’t have the space for that.”

Despite these hurdles, deep water farming shows promise as a way to extend crawfish farmers’ harvest seasons and cut down on extra expenses. To learn more about deep water farming, contact your local extension office.