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Thursday
Jun142012

Missouri Needs Angler Support to Protect Fisheries from Invasive Crayfish

Large and aggressive, the rusty crayfish is doing lots of damage outside its native range.

If you live in Missouri, I hope that you will join the Department of Conservation (MDC) in protecting our waters and fisheries.

You can do that by refusing to sign a petition opposing a regulation that would prohibit the importation, sale, and purchase of live crayfish for use as fishing bait, as well as for pond stocking and as pets or pet food.

Even better, you can voice your support for the regulation in a letter to the Missouri Conservation Commission (c/o Missouri Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102).

Fish farmers and the Missouri Farm Bureau (MFB) are behind the petition to rescind the proposal. You remember fish farmers. They’re the ones who brought us Asian carp.

Of course, they didn’t deliberately release silver and bighead carp into rivers, where they are destroying ecosystems and crowding out native species. Floods allowed the fish to escape from ponds.

But the point is that profit is what’s most important for fish farmers and MFB members, and that’s to be expected. That’s why farms and businesses exist.

The fewer regulations that they must endure, the better it is for their profit margin. On the other hand, stricter regulation might have prevented the importation and cultivation of the Asian carp now infesting our waters.

And now, following extensive research, MDC biologists want to take preemptive action to prevent the crayfish equivalent of that invasion in Missouri waters. Other states already have outlawed the sale of live crayfish for bait, and the American Fisheries Society has several times highlighted problems caused by invasive crayfish in its journal, Fisheries.

In Missouri, anglers still could catch and use crayfish for bait, the supposition being that they would obtain the shellfish from the same waters that they planned to fish.

Crayfish introduced into waters where they are not native can wreak all kinds of havoc, from introducing parasites and diseases to destroying habitat, displacing native species, and disrupting the food chain.

The MFB counters that “regulations are already on the books prohibiting the buying or selling of most species of live crayfish. Let’s work with the rules we have.”

The “rules we have” allow four species of crayfish to be sold as bait in Missouri. All four are native to some parts of Missouri, but none are native to the entire state. That makes them invasive also.

Many people mistakenly believe that a species can be “invasive” only if it is an exotic from another country. But that’s not true. A species becomes invasive when it is introduced and becomes established in any place outside its native range.

For example, the spotted bass is native to Missouri, but it has become invasive in some drainages, including the Meramec, where it is crowding out smallmouth bass.

MDC has documented 25 crayfish invasions in the state, and probably many more are as yet undiscovered. In 48 percent of those known invasions, the invading species are among the four native crayfish species allowed to be sold for bait.

That certainly suggests that “the rules we have” aren’t working.

So do these findings from a MDC study of the bait industry:

  •  27 percent of bait shops reported selling illegal species of crayfish.
  • More than 50 percent reported selling crayfish species not native to the regions where they were being sold.
  •  97 percent of bait shop owners admitted or showed that they didn’t know what species of crayfish they were selling.

 Additionally, MDC inspections found that many bait shops were unable to produce transaction receipts, that many crayfish were being obtained from outside of Missouri, and that some shops were illegally selling crayfish collected from the wild.

Does that sound like “the rules we have” are working?

And as to the economic argument that businesses will suffer if sale of live crayfish for bait is banned:

  • Of all Missouri’s bait shops registered as crayfish sellers, about 30 percent get an average of 7 percent of their annual income from live crayfish sales. 1 percent was the most commonly reported value.
  • Of all registered Missouri aquaculturists, about 29 percent get an average of 4 percent of their annual income from live crayfish sales. 0 to 2 percent were the most commonly reported values.
  • Of 188 Missouri pet shops, about 10 percent reported selling live crayfish with those sales amounting to an average of 1 percent of their total annual income.

In summary, the need for a ban on sale of crayfish as bait to protect our waters and our fisheries is well documented, while its implementation will have little economic impact.

When you consider how valuable healthy waters and fisheries are for tourism and outdoor recreation, the tradeoff certainly is worth it.

For more information:

Here’s a story from Oregon about invasive crayfish there, including two species native to Missouri.

Here’s a video from Wisconsin about the threat posed by red swamp crayfish, a Missouri species.

Here is what’s going on in Maryland.

And here is a fact sheet on the infamous rusty crayfish and the problems that it is causing.

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Reader Comments (1)

Superb summary of the issue, Robert. Thanks for getting the word out about this important issue. - Jim Low@mdc

June 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Low

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