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Birth of an industry: New business finds hungry market for local crawfish
When Jody Gallaway began the California Crawfish Co., she knew she was building an industry.
"We started this not as a small business but as a new industry for this area," she said.
In just the second full season of operation, the company has eight full-time employees, buys from 13 crawfish trappers and usually processes 1,200 to 1,500 pounds of crawfish a day, all of which come from Colusa or Sutter counties.
"We sell out every day," Gallaway said.
As a wildlife conservation biologist with a 20-year conservation consulting business, she was studying the feeding ecology of waterfowl in ricefields at Chico State University when she realized "we have the same species of crawfish as they do in the South.
"We have crawfish; we have rice fields; we have a market — why don't we have an industry?" Gallaway said.
The California season runs from July to October, which she said compliments the Southern season that runs from December to June.
"Last year, their season ended abruptly because of the flood, so our phone was ringing off the hook," she said.
The company sells a lot to the South, causing Gallaway to drive to the Sacramento Airport every morning to ship crawfish packed with ice packets to restaurants, fish stores and individuals.
"We can't even meet the demand right now," she said.
"There's tons of potential. We just need to get more people trapping fish. We're here and ready to buy," she said.
Godwin Straughan is one of the trappers with whom Gal away works.
"He's here because I'm here," she said.
Straughan, who is from Belize, said he gets up at 4 a.m. and can sometimes bring in up to 500 pounds of fish a day.
"I love it," he said. "Back home, I used to be a fisherman. Hopefully, I can do it for another 10 or 15 years."
But, Gallaway said that poaching is a problem.
Steve Danley considered trapping crawfish last summer because he is out in the ricefields everyday and has relationships with farmers as the Water Manager for Zumwalt Mutual Water Co.
He said he has come across people returning to the traps they've set out only to have the crawfish gone and the trap thrown in a ditch.
"What happens, is there is a lot of competition for these crawdads," he said. "In the past, there's been guns drawn and people doing some smashing of vehicles. I don't want to be out there dealing with that."
Colusa County Sheriff Scott Marshall said trespassing and theft are a problem every year during the season.
"Somebody does the work and somebody else takes the profit," Marshall said. But, "the window smashing, car chasing doesn't happen often."
Gallaway said she only buys from licensed trappers, and many of the trappers are catching crawfish in farmers' fields with whom she has made the arrangement. "Everybody has to sign an agreement," Gallaway said of the trappers, who receive between 70 cents and $1 per pound in return for their catch.
She said that "everything that comes in is already sold" and she built the company with the intention to grow.
The processing facility, located in Colusa Industrial Properties on Niagara Avenue, is set up for mass distribution.
“This whole building is set up to do 300,000 pounds a year. We currently do 75,000,” Gallaway said.
To help process the mudbugs, Gallaway purchased an old prune sorter from Ed Holbert, which she retrofitted for the job.
“The small ones go back into the fields and we wait until they get market size,” she said.
Gallaway believes that the company is the first facility to be state approved as a food processor for crawfish. “We have a pretty sophisticated system,” she said.