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In the great outdoors with PETER FROST

Over the years the USA’s belief that it could police the world has seen unwelcome American invaders in far too many corners of the globe.

Slightly different are the wave of US tough guys who are making a nuisance of themselves in Britain’s canals, rivers, waterways, ponds and lakes.

The American red signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) is a handsome critter, bigger and more colourful than its native British cousin the European white clawed crayfish (Austropotamobus pallipes). Both look for all the world like a miniature freshwater lobster – which in fact is exactly what they are.

Not only will the scarlet transatlantic cousin simply bully our natives out of a popular riverbed site but worse it carries a virulent disease that is harmless to itself but fatal to its British relations.

Nobody is quite sure how the signal crayfish arrived over here. Some suggest in the ballast tanks of a cargo ship on the New Orleans to Britain run; others that it escaped from the kitchens of a posh restaurant or breeding farm.

Like many invasive species it is doing so well because it has no real predators but one interesting feature of the animal appears to be changing that. Important for its long term elimination might be the fact that it is delicious and it’s also remarkably easy to catch.

Country folk, anglers, boaters and wild food enthusiasts are harvesting these little beasts and eating them in a hundred different ways from cold with mayonnaise to spicy hot in Creole inspired Gumbos and Jambalayas. Its free food and they are every bit as good as the lobster they serve at the Prime Minister’s £250,000 dinners. You’ll probably find the company at your dinner party is nicer too.

So how do you catch them? Early techniques involved a bicycle wheel rim covered in a net curtain and baited with rotting kipper. It certainly worked.

Today things are a little more sophisticated. There are good designs for DiY Cray traps and pots on the internet and you can buy a ready-made trap for less than a fiver.

In theory you need a licence from the Environment Agency and I and the Morning Star would certainly point you in that direction but it has to be said there are thousands of people catching and eating signal Crays without any legal authorisation.

Whatever, certain rules apply. Learn to recognise the various species – the Environment Agency website is a good place to start. Try only to set your trap where the population is of the invasive red signal Cray. If you do catch a native English Cray put it back immediately. Never return a live red signal to the waters. Even if you aren’t going to eat it, kill it.

There are thousands of recipes on the internet. So get a licence, get a trap and eat your way to the survival of our native crayfish and send the Yankee invaders home just like they did in Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, Chile, Nicaragua and a hundred other places. Venceremos!

This article first published in the Morning Star, 2012

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