Skip to main content

Signal Crayfish: Control

Volume 570: debated on Tuesday 5 March 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

2.50 p.m.

Whether they are providing guidance on the infestation of inland waters by American signal crayfish since they were first imported in the 1970s.

My Lords, the Government will shortly be making regulations effectively to prohibit the keeping of signal crayfish in those areas where they are not currently found in the wild. In other parts of the country, where signal crayfish are already well established, the scale of the problem can best be reduced by reminding everyone that they are easy to catch and delicious to eat.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. It indicates that the Government are taking action. Does he agree that this crayfish is the aquatic equivalent of the grey squirrel? Can he confirm that it has already eliminated native crayfish in some areas and is devouring freshwater creatures of many kinds? Unlike the squirrel, however, it is, as my noble friend indicated, very good to eat. Will the Government encourage as wide a consumption of it as possible, including drawing it to the attention of the Refreshment Sub-committee of this House, in the interests of preserving some ecological balance?

My Lords, I believe that the scale of the effect of this creature on the environment is a little over-stated. It is an active predator, but it lives quite happily in its native habitats with a wide range of fish and other species. We do not expect it to have any devastating effect on our native wildlife. It carries a fungal disease which kills our native crayfish, and that is the reason for our wanting to keep it in its present bounds. So far as the Refreshment Department of this House is concerned, I should be very happy to see squirrel on the menu. It is, I can tell the House, quite delicious.

My Lords, is not the greatest danger at the moment not the infestation of crayfish in inland waters but the infestation of Spanish fishermen in our coastal waters?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the American signal crayfish—or Pacifastacus leniusculus, as we usually call it in Wiltshire—has been described as an alien omnivore which is voracious, aggressive and fertile or, to put it another way, over-fed, over-sexed and over here? Is he further aware that the narrow-clawed (Turkish) crayfish is believed to have got into our waters by escaping from restaurants in London? I am intrigued to know how that happened. Did they just perhaps pop down the Strand and dive into the Thames? The problem has been known for 15 years; and the Ministry has accepted that it should have acted much faster. Does the Minister agree?

My Lords, I cannot follow the noble Lord in his erudition. I rarely can. However, I can tell him that the contract for fishing crayfish in the Serpentine is currently vacant. The Turkish crayfish is there. If he wishes to go for the red swamp crayfish, he will find it in the men's bathing pond in Hampstead. But it is quite fond of fresh meat. So it is not sensible to stay still for too long.