Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Eat more (red swamp) crayfish?

The mania over the discovery of red swamp crayfish in Michigan is reminding me of my days as a kid, when we would catch crayfish to keep in aquariums for brief periods. When we were older, we’d catch them to use as bait for bass.

We wouldn’t get quite as crazy as wildlife officials and others are getting about these invasive red swampers that have just been discovered here, but we were always excited to net a bucketful of crayfish. The bigger ones were boiled for dinner after we caught and released a bunch of smallmouth that we’d caught on the smaller ones. It was a blast.

These red swamp crayfish are native to the South, but invasive to Michigan. They were either released as someone’s bait or someone’s pets, probably. Now that they’re here, I doubt we’ll be able to control them, no matter how hard we try. It’s reported that Wisconsin wildlife officials went to the effort of paving over a pond there because there were so many red swampers in it.

Here in Michigan, the DNR is still surveying the two locations where the crayfish were found near Novi and Vicksburg. They’ve found hundreds. News stories talk about the burrows that red swamp crayfish dig, and the potential harm they may do to streambanks, docks, irrigation systems and more, but Michigan’s native crayfish dig deep burrows, too. Red swamp crayfish do compete for food and shelter with native crayfish, and that may be the bigger problem.

It would seem to me that the best thing to do about these new red raiders is to invite them home to dinner – but not so fast. It’s illegal to “possess, introduce, import, sell or offer (red swamp crayfish) for sale as a live organism, except in special circumstances, including providing specimens to the DNR for identification.” Members of the public are encouraged to report sightings of them and capture and freeze them if they can.

Hmmm. So, if I catch a bucket of these red swampers, can I take them home and freeze them and then take them to a nearby DNR field office with butter and salt and a pot to boil water? I would happily share the wealth.

I’m not making fun of the DNR’s efforts, nor trying to discount the seriousness of this invasive species. But crayfish are delicious, and I have to believe that a bucketful of them make a better meal than a bucketful of gobies or zebra mussels. Why not encourage people to catch as many as possible, as long as they don’t use them for bait or release them into their backyard ponds?

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