Pinch, clean, eat

The cancer season in Louisiana starts early.

⋅ Craig Gatro ⋅

AgCenter University of Louisiana

Temperatures above average in November and December helped the Louisiana Cancer season begin quickly.

The water temperature in some ponds reached 75 degrees Fahrenheit in late December, which supported the activity and growth of newly hatched crayfish. These weather conditions led to the fact that in late December and early January many rivers reached market size.

Mark Shirley, LSU AgCenter and Louisiana Aquaculture Agent Sea Grant, and Hailey Gambil, LSU graduate student, are investigating some young cancers as part of a white spot virus research project. The virus can cause a very high mortality rate, which stops commercial pond crops

“If the water temperature jumps between 60 and 70 degrees, it’s optimal for cancer growth,” said Mark Shirley, aquaculture agent at AgCenter LSU and Louisiana Sea Grant.

Unfortunately for crayfish lovers, the frosts in most parishes where crayfish are grown stopped catching in late January until the warm weather returned.

Mark Shirley shows several different sizes of crayfish taken from a pond in Vermilion Parish. Shirley said the mild weather in November and December helped get more young crayfish to market size. Shirley expects this year’s crayfish stocks to be good because of the rainy end-summer conditions Louisiana has been experiencing.

Shirley said some cancer producers and buyers have told him this year is one of their best starts in five years.

Shirley expects this year to be good because of the rainy weather before early September, while many rivers were in their burrows in late summer with their young. Wet conditions help both adults and young crayfish survive until their ponds are flooded in September and October.

White spot virus

One of the biggest threats to the cancer industry is the deadly white spot virus. Since little is known about the virus, researchers AgCenter and Sea Grant have launched a research project to learn more about it.

“At the moment, we don’t know the vectors of transmission – whether it’s birds, or insects, or something in the water,” Shirley said. “We haven’t determined how it gets into the pond.”

Hailey Gambil is a graduate student at LSU who is collecting field data for the project.

“There’s not a lot of published literature about the white spot in cancer ponds,” Gambil said. “So this is really one of the first intensive studies looking at the white spot in the context of aquaculture.”

Gambil said much of the information about white spot is related to shrimp.

Shirley quickly noticed that the white spot was a threat only to crustaceans.

“The virus may or may not be present in a bag of crayfish that you can boil this weekend,” Shirley said. “It’s not about caring about people. So go ahead and enjoy the crayfish. The taste is not affected. It does not affect anything else. “

Shirley said one sign that the reservoir has been affected is that larger rivers will perish and be found floating on the water. Another sign that the catch will drop significantly in two to three days.

Louisiana is expected to have nearly 260,000 acres of crayfish ponds across the state, producing nearly 150 million pounds of crayfish.

Craig Gatro is a communications specialist with LSU AgCenter. He can be contacted at

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