Tahoe Lobster Company is busy preparing for the 2014 harvest season with plans to expand to a European market.
The company, now in its third year, will begin selling Lake Tahoe crawfish to buyers in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe after it starts dropping its traps in May.
The expansion is necessary because the local market has been “a hard nut to crack,” owner Fred Jackson said Thursday. People are used to larger-size crawfish, and the novelty of Lake Tahoe crawfish has partially worn off in the region.
“We’ve got to stay diligent in what we do and adapt,” he said.
Ever since it received a permit in 2012 to start a commercial crawfish operation in Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Lobster Co. has been working hard to keep its mom-and-pop business afloat.
In its first two seasons, the company had to endure significant monetary loss brought on by a thief stealing the company’s traps.
But now, Jackson said his business is having pains of a different kind: growing pains.
“We’re having growing pains in a good way,” he said.
Jackson hopes to run three boats this season, and he expects to bring in about 9,000 pounds of Lake Tahoe crawfish per month. That’s double what the business brought in during its first year of operation.
But with demand for the lake crustaceans high in Europe, Jackson is confident he’ll move the product as businesses find the relatively clean crawfish — devoid of chemicals and pesticides — appealing.
“Lake Tahoe is pretty pristine compared to all the tributaries on the West Coast,” he said.
Harvesting crawfish out of Lake Tahoe is a two-fold operation, Jackson said. On one hand, it can be profitable. But more importantly, removing the crustacean helps improve the lake’s clarity.
In South Shore, some businesses said they’d jump on board with the local crawfishing industry if demand for the dish was higher in town.
“I’ve got crawfish in the past, and they weren’t a big seller,” said Ryan Grasley, manager at The Fresh Ketch. “I think some people, when they go out to eat, they aren’t really willing to work for their food.”
The crawfish from the lake is good, said Peter Brinckerhoff, executive chef at Riva Grill and other eateries around the basin. But the product is still fairly new, and he hasn’t chosen how to add it to the menu yet.
“We’ve just got to find the right fit,” he said.
Jackson admits that changing the public’s thinking about eating crawfish in Lake Tahoe could be difficult. Nevertheless, the company will continue to work hard to improve lake clarity while remaining a successful business on the way.
“This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme,” Jackson said. “A lot of guys have it in their head that they can do this, but it’s a lot of work.”
Tahoe Lobster Co. will continue selling to Tahoe markets as it expands, he said. Testing before this season’s harvest will begin in April.