By Lisa Lysen
An edited version of this, called “Bait Becomes Bully” was published in “The Cottager” magazine – Mar/Apr/2019. Here’s a link to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/The-Cottager-137410736323877/
Unedited, it goes like this:
“You get a line … I’ll get a pole! We’ll go down to the crawdad hole …”
Granted, Northwestern Ontario may not be your first thought as you hum this tune, but you can certainly find crayfish boils happening on the shores of Sioux Narrows just the same.
It’s important to know, though the shore is legally the only place this activity is permitted if what you’re serving is rusty crayfish. And if you’re serving recently caught crayfish, they’re likely to be the very predatory and quite tasty rusty crayfish.
According to Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Fisheries, “Under the Ontario Fishery Regulations, it is unlawful to transport any type of crayfish overland whether they are alive or dead and regardless of the intended use. This regulation ensures that there is no risk of new introductions to other waterways because they haven’t left the water’s edge”.
Nevertheless, native to the Ohio River, rusty crayfish are making their way north and creating many ecological problems along the way.
The spread is thought to be caused primarily by crayfish being used as bait, although turning unwanted pets loose and emptying aquariums into rivers and lakes may be partially to blame as well.
But whether they’re being moved intentionally from one body of water to another or transferred unknowingly, they are travelling and they’re destructive little creatures.
Ontario’s MNRF advices “The rusty crayfish’s large size, aggressive eating habits and rapid spread have had serious impacts on native species.”
Moving from south central and south eastern Ontario, causing trouble in Manitoulin Island and Magnetawan River, they were first spotted in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario and in Lake of the Woods in 1960. In 2005 the Ontario portion of the Winnipeg River became home to rusty crayfish and in 2007 they appeared in Falcon Lake, Manitoba.
While trapping for consumption on the shore is legal in Ontario, as long as they are not transported, it should be noted it is illegal in Manitoba without a permit. A permit may be obtained by phone or email and will take 2-3 days to issue.
Looking and tasting like mini lobsters with black-tipped claws and a splash of rust on their upper shells rusty crayfish are among the most invasive of their species.
And since they’re bigger than their counterparts, growing to 5”, sometimes even 8” in length, with a much more aggressive outlook on life, they tend to dominate the scene quickly.
They prefer “fight” to “flight” and will stand their ground against predators. With huge powerful claws raised overhead in defensive stance it’s easy to imagine they are quite a daunting force in the aquatic world.
And while this may save rusty crayfish from being devoured it sadly makes their more passive relatives much more tempting prey. In many areas rusty crayfish have either completely replaced native species or left numbers severely depleted.
The diminishment of other crayfish populations isn’t the only consequence of a rusty crayfish invasion, though.
They have quite a taste for underwater plants, snails, leeches, clams, fish eggs and insects. With an appetite that sees them wolfing down more than double what their smaller cousins will eat their decimation of aquatic areas has been equated with that of clear-cutting forests.
And although they do move slower in winter months, they don’t hibernate.
The overall environmental effect is huge. When plants, insects and aquatic life needed to sustain the eco-system of a lake changes everything changes. And once an invasion begins, rusty crayfish numbers are virtually impossible to control.
Females have the ability to store sperm until conditions are perfect. They produce anywhere from 80 to 200 offspring at a time, sometimes up to 500. And so introducing a single female can populate an area quickly.
Even something as seemingly innocent as carrying aquatic plants from one place to another can start trouble.
As well, rusty crayfish flourish in fast flowing water as easily as in standing pools or shallow ponds and have surprisingly long lifespans, living 2-3 years on average.
To help curb the spread it’s recommended to:
- Always drain anything containing lake water
- Thoroughly clean and dry all water equipment
- Never empty an aquarium into a lake or river
Since it’s difficult to find environmentally friendly methods of controlling these destructive crustaceans without affecting other aquatic life, prevention and awareness may be the best tools for fighting them.
Introducing bass and sunfish as natural predators, to a lake or region taken over by these undesirables may help to a degree. And trapping has also proven effective.
The Ontario MNRF says: “Crayfish, including Rusty Crayfish, can be caught under a recreational fishing license. If people wish to eat them, they can cook them on-site, on the shoreline where they’re caught. There is no limit on the number of crayfish you can possess if the intended use is consumption”.
So, a crawdad boil just might be a deliciously fun way to help heal the environment a little while enjoying time on the shore!
Prepping your “catch of the day” is very important, though. Crayfish must be purged before cooking.
For this, heavily salt the water your freshly live-trapped crayfish are kept in. As the water discolors, rinse with fresh until it remains very clear. As with mussels, crayfish shouldn’t be used unless they’re alive. Once cooked, any with straight tails should be discarded.
And once that’s done … a pot, a packet of spices tossed in with corncob, onions, potatoes, sausage, a few lemons for extra zest and of course, crawdads … you’ll be creating tasty cottage memories in no time!
You might even find yourself humming a few Louisiana Bayou tunes.
I’ve written a story about Costa Rica and the wonderful experience we had visiting this beautiful country. It’s just been published on Travelista’s website. If you’d like to read it, here’s the link: