Red Swamp Crayfish, photo by Keith Sutton
Help Fight the Spread of Invasive Crayfish
By Keith “Catfish” Sutton
Importing crayfish for bait is not a good idea
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) is reminding the public and seafood distributors that importing and possessing live red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) is prohibited by law in the Prairie State.
“Red swamp crayfish compete aggressively with native species for food and habitat, and they’ve been known to cause structural damage to property. In fact, they are considered one of the most invasive species of crayfish in the world,” said Illinois Conservation Police Officer Brandon Fehrenbacher who oversees the IDNR Office of Law Enforcement Invasive Species Unit. “These crayfish spread by escaping from live crawfish boils and from fishermen illegally using them as bait.”
IDNR crayfish regulations only prohibit the importation or possession of live species. IDNR does not issue special permits for live crawfish boils. Instead, Illinois residents should order frozen or steamed crawfish for their needs.
Any individuals and businesses that import, sell or possess live crawfish in Illinois are subject to fines and penalties under state law. Penalties and fines range from a petty offense with a fine of $195 to a Class 3 felony with fines and restitution totaling tens of thousands of dollars. Illinois is one of many states, including Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, that prohibit the sale or possession of live red swamp crayfish to prevent the spread of aquatic nuisance species.
Native to the warm still waters of the southeastern United States, red swamp crayfish have been found as far northwest as Washington, and have established populations up and down the east and west coasts, as well as Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Commonly sold in pet stores, some of the spread can be contributed to careless release from private aquariums. But to the red swamp crayfish’s’ credit, they are perfectly capable of spreading themselves, crossing miles of dry land from waterbody to waterbody, especially during wet seasons. And once they’ve established themselves, they’re almost impossible to eradicate.
Once established, red swamp crayfish will burrow into the soil around dams, irrigation systems and levees and can cause severe and costly structural damage. They also destroy nesting and nursery grounds of aquatic species, compete with other fish and crayfish species for food and resources, and prey on the eggs of other aquatic life.
The importance of avoiding the spread of invasive species like the red swamp crayfish can’t be understated. You can help stop problems caused by these animals and plants by taking this pledge:
I pledge to protect our lakes, rivers and wetlands, from aquatic invaders. I will prevent their spread by:
- Removing, draining and drying before I leave a water access.
- Following all invasive species laws and regulations.
- Learning to recognize aquatic invaders.
- Disposing of all unwanted bait and fish parts in the trash.
- Sharing this information with other recreationists.
Questions about crayfish possession can be directed to the IDNR aquatic nuisance species program at DNR.email@example.com. To learn more about protecting Illinois waterways from the spread of invasive species, visit transportzero.org.