BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Seafood processors are fuming over a move by the federal government that could impact how much consumers pay for crawfish this season.
The U.S. Department of Labor wants industries who hire foreign workers to pay them more. The difference will likely be made up by shoppers when they go to market.
Crawfish season brings on a big demand in south Louisiana. Farmers, processors, and retailers are reeling in today's catch from across the state. The process of sorting and cleaning the Louisiana delicacy is well underway. Consumers are ready. At Tony's Seafood on Plank Road, the mudbugs are piping hot.
"I got eight pounds of crawfish and two pounds of shrimp," Wayne Aucoin said.
"I love the taste of them, the seasoning. I just love everything about crawfish," Tanmia Locure said.
Owner, Bill Pizzolato, said the prices are about what you would expect this time of year. They are expected to drop when the temperatures rise. But he said a move by the federal government could have consumers shelling out more for the processed and packaged variety. That's because the shellfish are peeled by foreign workers who come to the United Sates on a temporary visa to fill those jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor, on January 36, 2015, said employers must pay those workers more. The wage rate jumped from $7.35 an hour to $12.35 an hour.
"It could really impact us as far as pricing and getting the product to bring to market," Pizzolato said.
Longtime seafood processor, Frank Randol, said the five dollar hike translates to $3 a pound more for peeled tail meat.
"If you were paying $12, it's going to go up to $15. If you were paying $15, its going up to $18," Randol said.
The federal government also put a cap on the number of guest workers per year. Randol said other industries that use that labor, like forestry and landscaping, may have gotten those permits first. That means Louisiana processing plants may have missed their chance to hire a workforce for crawfish harvesting season.
"We've had storms and different things happen but this is government-made. This is something that can be reversed with the stroke of a pen," Randol said.
Randol fears if it that does not happen soon, farmers will quit, and the market could be flooded with imported crawfish.
"This is like the perfect storm because we didn't see this coming and we are right in the middle of it," Randol said.
Seafood processors met with U.S. Senator David Vitter. They are hopeful he will deliver their message to Washington D.C. before it's too late.