OTTAWA COUNTY, MI – The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently discovered that anglers are purchasing red swamp crayfish (a prohibited species) from food markets and using them as live bait. As part of a DNR crayfish monitoring study, a discovery of several dead red swamp crayfish recently was made in the vicinity of a popular fishing area at Lake Macatawa in Ottawa County.
It is illegal to import any live species of crayfish into Michigan for commercial bait purposes. As of this year, red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) are a prohibited species in this state, meaning it is illegal to possess this invasive species alive. Red swamp crayfish are native to the southeastern United States and are considered an invasive species in Michigan.
In response to the recent discovery, DNR crews this week will set crayfish traps and use seines at Lake Macatawa. The DNR is working with local groups to incorporate crayfish sampling into the lake’s ongoing monitoring program.
“This crayfish was found in southeastern Wisconsin ponds in 2009, proving its ability to live in northern states such as Michigan,” said Nick Popoff, supervisor of the DNR’s Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Program. “The DNR’s Fisheries and Law Enforcement divisions are collaborating with stakeholder groups to increase public awareness and compliance on new crayfish regulations to prevent any introductions of red swamp crayfish into our waters.”
The DNR reminds anglers to be cautious when considering bait options because it is illegal to use live red swamp crayfish as bait. The public is advised to contact the Report-All-Poaching hotline at 1-800-292-7800 if anyone is observed in possession of live red swamp crayfish, so officers can investigate.
Red swamp crayfish are dark red in color with raised, bright red spots covering the body and claws. They also have a black, wedge-shaped stripe on the top of the abdomen. They may vary in length between 2 to 5 inches. This species of crayfish is highly invasive, eats a range of food items and survives in many habitat types. Red swamp crayfish burrow into shorelines causing significant structural damage. They have the ability to survive drought conditions and are known to migrate up to 3 kilometers in search of habitat. They are very fertile, with females laying up to 600 eggs at a time and reproducing up two times in a year.
The state of Michigan continues to develop new actions to maintain and enhance existing efforts to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species. The use and trade of live organisms, such as the selling of red swamp crayfish for bait, is one pathway that must be monitored and at times regulated for a comprehensive approach toward preventing new harmful invaders.
For more information on red swamp crayfish, visit michigan.gov/fishing and click on the “Aquatic Invasive Species” button.