In A Pinch: Spain’s International Crawfish Industry Uses Louisiana Crawfish
By Avery Davidson
ISLA MAYOR, SPAIN — The levied rice fields surrounding Isla Mayor in southern Spain look nearly identical to those in southwestern Louisiana. Just like those in Jeff Davis, Acadia and Vermilion Parishes, the rice fields in Spain are home to the Louisiana Red Swamp Crawfish.
Researchers introduced the Louisiana Red Swamp Crawfish to the area surrounding Isla Mayor in the 1970's. The hope was to create a new, farmable industry.
The introduced crawfish did flourish in this environment, but Spanish law interfered with farmers’ ability to raise the crustaceans as a crop. Under Spanish law, the farmer owns the land and the rice planted on the land. However, when the farmer floods the field, the water is public and anyone can trap crawfish. For that reason, farmers do not restock their rice fields with crawfish.
It was a visit to this area of Spain which became a highlight of the trip for members of LSU Ag Leadership Class XV. As part of the two-year program, class members make a trip outside the United States to see how farmers and ranchers in other countries deal with challenges and state competitive in a world market. Vermilion Parish crawfish and cattle producer Aaron Lee is a member of Class XV and had the most interest in a visit to Europe’s largest crawfish processor, Alfocan, S.A.
Based in Seville and operating in Isla Mayor, Alfocan processes more than 4.4 million pounds of crawfish every year. The general manager of the Isla Mayor operation is an Austrian with a French last name who sports a beard, wears a knit cap and speaks English as easily as he does Spanish. His name is Nicolas Roux and he quickly pointed out that the crawfish in Spain are wild caught.
"We consider it wild caught here because there is no repopulating.” Roux said, “So, the figure of the farmer is different than the fisherman. So, you have dedicated fishermen who dedicate their activity to fishing the crawfish. And you have rice farmers, though they might fish, they're not involved in the life cycle of the crawfish.”
Lee found the tour of the Alfocan processing plant an interesting stop on the trip, one he found to be familiar territory.
"You know, it's essentially just a peeling plant.” Lee said, “Very, very stringent on cleanliness."
It’s a plant that covers a lot of territory with its products. According to Roux, crawfish leave the plant either boiled and then frozen whole, boiled and then frozen whole with a wine or a dill sauce, or boiled, peeled and packaged as tail meat. Alfocan exports 50 percent to countries in the European Union. The other 50 percent goes to the United States.
Lee said crawfish grown and processed in China already drive down the price of Louisiana crawfish. While in the plant, Lee held up a bag of Spanish- processed crawfish tails marketed by a wholesaler based in St. Rose, Louisiana.
“Remember this,” Lee said with a look of disbelief in his eyes. "I'm really not a fan of any foreign crawfish coming into the US market. That's market share that they're taking from me, personally. You know, that's why things like that hit closer to home to someone like me because that's my livelihood."
"I'm really not a fan of any foreign crawfish coming into the US market.” Lee said, “I mean, that's money in my pocket. That's market share that they're taking from me, personally. You know, that's why things like that hit closer to home to someone like me because that's my livelihood."