Outside of Michael Furford’s mobile home next to the skiff boat he’s repairing, wire crawfish pots stack the wall, almost reaching the roof.
Furford said it took him about two years to make the pots, or traps, and the nearly 150 others floating beneath the water at Coal Creek and Willow Grove.
A crab fisherman for 25 years, Furford is just starting to get his feet wet in the crawfish, or crawdad, game, making a business out of what is typically recognized as a child’s hobby.
“From the time I was 12, that was what I did,” Furford said. “I’ve toyed with it over the years to see if it’s worth getting into. It’s definitely worth getting into. At $2.79 a pound, these things are worth money, and there’s a lot of them in this river.”
In Washington, crawdad fishing is typically dominated by recreational fishermen who aren’t required to obtain a license to catch them, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The fishing pool narrows when talking about commercial crawfish fishing.
Bruce Baker, Fish and Wildlife biologist, said he’s only issued nine commercial crawfish permits this year, and Furford said he holds two of them.
Unlike in the Louisiana bayous, crawfish aren’t considered as much of a delicacy in Washington, Fish and Wildlife Hatchery Reform Coordinator Jon Anderson said. Anderson was formerly the commercial crawfish manager for Washington.
“One of the things I always recommended to the prospective commercial crawfish fisher was to make sure you had a market before you started,” Anderson said. “They would pay for or build crawfish pots and spend their $185 for a license, come in with their first catch and nobody would buy them.”
Despite the limited market within the state, Furford said he’s not worried about selling his stock. He has a deal with South Bend Packers and another deal he didn’t want to disclose.
Crawfish season lasts from the beginning of April through October. At the season peak, Furford said he can make nearly $3 per pound on signal crawfish, depending on the market.
“Overseas, those are really prized at $2.75 a pound and $4.90 in live fish markets,” Furford said.
Furford’s foray into crawdad fishing hasn’t been without its bumps. Furford said other fishermen are stealing his traps, which cost about $50 each to make.
Furford said he’s lost more than 40 pots since April 1, and another five were stolen last week.
It’s a lot of money lost for Furford, who spent $70,000 investing in the new business.
“I was kind of expecting something to happen. You have a few hurdles before things start going smoothly,” he said. “I just hope it doesn’t continue. They’re literally taking the money out of our wallet.”
Theft is a common complaint for crawfish fishermen, Anderson said, because there might not be as many people on the lake or river crawfish fishing.
Crawfish gear is a more obvious target, Anderson said. Commercial crawfish fishers are required to buoy their trap lines.
“I wouldn’t necessarily blame recreational fishermen. It’s other water users,” Anderson said. “They see a buoy on the water, and people are thieves. If you make the buoy too bright, you draw the riff raff in.”
Stolen gear isn’t deterring Furford from his new business.
“It’s going to make me come back harder,” Furford said. “For every pot stolen, I’ll build 10 more. I’m not going away.”