THE Environment Agency is seeking views on proposed options for a national byelaw to rationalise the authorisation of native and alien crayfish trapping to help prevent the spread of non-native crayfish species and the fungal disease ‘crayfish plague’.

Agency Principal Fisheries Officer Steve Chambers said: “As part of its fisheries management and conservation role, the Environment Agency is looking at options to regulate the use of traps designed to catch crayfish in order to restrict accidental or deliberate transportation of alien species and ‘crayfish plague’, while still allowing trapping of the crustaceans for legitimate purposes”.

Crayfish are trapped for a number of reasons, including:

Conservation – to re-establish native species in a particular area, or to relocate them during work taking place in their habitat;

Scientific research – including investigations into interactions between crayfish and other species in the wild, or investigations into methods of controlling the non-native species;

Fisheries management – signal crayfish can become a nuisance for anglers by taking their bait, or can undermine riverbanks by burrowing.

Current byelaw provisions for authorisation vary around the country.

The native white clawed crayfish is a protected species, increasingly under threat from more aggressive alien species, such as the American signal crayfish.

These alien invaders were originally imported for food, but have escaped into the wild where they can out-compete the smaller and less aggressive native species.

Signal crayfish also carry the fungal disease ‘crayfish plague’ to which native species have no immunity.

After considering consultation responses, the Environment Agency will develop final proposals for a new byelaw, which will be formally submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the National Assembly for Wales for their approval.

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • The consultation document can be accessed by the link on the righ or by writing to Steve Chambers, Principal Officer Fisheries, Environment Agency, 21 Park Square South, Leeds, LS1 2QG or emailing steve.chambers@environment-agency.gov.uk

  • The closing date for responses to the consultation is Monday 16 December 2002.

  • The Agency has a general exemption from Defra and the National Assembly for Wales that permits its officers to use traps in the course of carrying out their regulatory duty.

  • The native white clawed crayfish has been targeted under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, in which the Agency plays a major role. These plans identify priority habitats and species, set targets for their conservation and outline the mechanism for achieving these targets.

  • Native crayfish are a threatened species and are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but people can help to ensure their survival by following the Crayfish Code:

  • Always seek advice before carrying out work in or near water which may disturb crayfish or their habitat

  • Dry and disinfect fishing equipment if you have been fishing where alien crayfish are present, to ensure disease is not spread

  • Never use crayfish as bait – it is illegal to take native crayfish from the wild or use them as bait

  • Don’t introduce non-native crayfish anywhere in England or Wales, since introduced populations are extremely difficult to control

  • If you see a crayfish (in the wild or for sale alive) please contact the Environment Agency on 0845 933 3111.

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