Wild crawfish, also known as crayfish, are harvested commercially in parts of the USA. Much of the effort occurs in Louisiana, where red swamp crayfish and white river crayfish dominate catches. Commercial harvesting of wild crayfish also occurs in other states, usually on a much smaller scale.
Crawfish are usually caught in baited wire mesh traps which are fished in ponds, swamps, and slow moving rivers. Much of the fishing for occurs in spring and early summer when crawfish are at peak quality.
Crawfish are sold live or pre-cooked. In some areas, meat is shelled, packaged, and frozen for later use. Yields of usable meat from wild caught crawfish can vary considerably depending on species, season, processing technique, and other factors.
A typical catch of red swamp crayfish might include a mix of sizes with counts varying from 10-26 + individuals per pound. A 5 inch red swamp crawfish weighs approximately 1 oz. A shelled and deveined tail from the same individual weighs approximately .20 -.25 oz. Excluding fat or claw meat, the resulting yield of tail meat would be 20 percent or less. In general, the ratio of tail meat to whole weight decreases as crayfish increase in size.
Crawfish are sometimes sorted and sold according to market names and counts (number of individuals per pound):
Jumbo – 15 count or less
Large – 16-20 count
Medium – 21-25 count
Peeler – 26 count +
In some areas, niche markets exist for crawfish as fishing bait. Since most fishermen prefer small crawfish for bait, harvesters are able to market catches that would otherwise be discarded. In order to direct market to recreational fishermen, harvesters must be prepared to maintain a supply of live crawfish in holding tanks.