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The need to defend native species of crayfish against ruthless US invaders has galvanised PETER FROST into picking a surprisingly effective solution

Even those of us who welcomed Barack Obama as president realise like all of his predecessors he thinks he has the right to police the world. We still see unwelcome US invaders in far too many corners of the globe.

Back in 2012 I wrote about a slightly different bunch of US tough-guy invaders who were making a nuisance of themselves in Britain’s canals, rivers, waterways, ponds and lakes.

They still are and in ever greater numbers.

The US 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.

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With more crayfish getting on to restaurant menus and escaping from kitchens and from fish farms there are several other exotic crayfish species making themselves at home in our rivers as well.

Not only will the scarlet transatlantic cousin and their exotic cousins simply bully our natives out of a popular riverbed site but worse they carry a virulent disease — cray pox — that is harmless to itself but fatal to native British crayfish.

In many rivers and lakes the red signal cray is living in huge populations and some fishers report hundreds of thousands of the beasts covering the beds of waterways.

Those who know about such things report huge catches.

Like many invasive species it is doing so well because it has no real predators except those humans who have discovered the joys of eating them.

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.

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

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.

crayfish trap

Those traps are capable of catching huge quantities of crays.

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.

Certain rules do, however, apply. First learn to recognise the various species — red signal crayfish are the best — the Environment Agency website is a good place to start identifying different species.

Second, try only to set your trap where the population is of the invasive red signal cray not our native white clawed crays.

Third, make sure your trap is baby otter friendly — if the entrance is too large it can catch and drown a baby otter.

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Four, if you do catch a native English cray put it back immediately. Never return a live red signal or any of the other exotic species 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.

I enjoyed a dish of Suffolk crays recently. Pests they may be but there can be no argument they are certainly the most delicious pest I have ever tasted. Free, red and delicious, what more could you want?

This article first appeared in the Morning Star 5 September 2014

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