Crayfish have long been popular among aquarists as well as fishermen and naturalists alike. But non-native species have taken their toll on native populations. The fight against invasive species has intensified in the waters of the Keystone State. To counteract the effects of invasive crayfish species on the animals living in and around the waterways of Pennsylvania, new regulations have gone into effect starting on January 1st, 2015.
Crayfish are common enough and well-known to most of us who have spent some time in the waterways around Pennsylvania. I remember hunting under rocks for crayfish in the Swatara and Quittapahilla Creek close to my home when I was young. Many, many years ago, I even had a pet crayfish for awhile that I “adopted” from a feeder tank at a local pet store. Pennsylvanians don’t eat crayfish nearly as much as some of our southern neighbors, but they have been a common bait to catch bigger fish.
Crayfish populations have been on the decline however. There are several species of crayfish that aren’t native to our waters that have been overtaking native populations or that have been spreading from their own local regions to new waters. The Kingpin of Crayfish Crime, the Rusty Crayfish (Orconectes rusticus), is the largest and most notorious of these and can be found in mind-blowing densities in some areas. Rusty Crayfish can grow almost twice as large as some other native crayfish and are much more aggressive. This can lead to the smaller species being preyed upon or out-competed for food, the eggs and young of other aquatic life being preyed upon, and predators that may feed on other crayfish can’t feed on the larger and more aggressive Rusty’s. Researchers have concluded that crayfish released by irresponsible aquarium owners along with fishermen and boat owners have contributed in part to this invasion.
Rules and Regulations
The Regulations on crayfish collection and commerce are nothing new to Pennsylvania. It has been against the law for anyone to sell or transport Rusty Crayfish since 2005 and the enforcement of the ban has been getting more and more stringent ever since. The new regulation that went into effect on January 1 adds all native and non-native crayfish to that restriction. No crayfish, native or otherwise, can be possessed, sold or transported, including some popular aquarium species like the Electric Blue Crayfish (Procambarus paeninsulanus) and the Mexican Dwarf Crayfish (Cambarellus patzcuarensis). With the proper license, up to fifty crayfish can be harvested per angler per day from Pennsylvania water but only after the head has been removed behind the eyes. Crayfish can still be used as bait, but only in the immediate water where they were taken from (for example, a crayfish from the Swatara Creek in Lebanon county can’t be taken and used as bait in the Susquehanna River in Dauphin County). Restaurants and research facilities have strict guidelines that allow them to have live crayfish for their specific use.
What Does This Mean For You?
For readers of this blog, this means that the days of keeping a pet crayfish are coming to a close in many areas. Keeping any crayfish species in an aquarium (or bait bucket) in Pennsylvania can land you in some hot water (pun intended). If you are reading this from somewhere outside of Pennsylvania, check your local regulations. Many other states and some parts of Canada have similar regulations in effect or in the works. All of these restrictions are for the Greater Good of our waterways and ecosystems and the loss of an aquarium hobby niche is a small price to pay. Even if your area isn’t affected by crayfish invasions or regulations, there are other invasive species that affect different areas; always practice responsible pet-keeping and never release any of your plants or animals into the wild.
- Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission – full text of the official changes to these regulations
- State, Territorial, and Tribal Fish and Wildlife Offices: Agency Listing by state/territory from the US Fish & Wildlife Service
Pa dosnt want them so they pass laws so you cant take them. Makes sense
The intent behind the new law is to stop crayfish from one waterway being introduced into another waterway. You can certainly take them, as long as you have a fishing license and cut the heads off. Pennsylvania has no size limit on crayfish and you can harvest up to 50 crayfish per day.
Kind of confused, my.husband and.i are from fortis, he wants to set up traps stop we can EAT them lol, but we cook them we, don’t remove the head, we want to have a crawfish boil, but these regulations i could understand for everything except eating them.
Should we call fish and game to find out about this???
Hi Mary Stacy, I saw in your second comment that you are in Florida. The regulations and changing in this blog are in Pennsylvania where we are located. I would definitely check your local regulations for Florida. I was able to find a Florida Fishing Regulations website that states “There are no seasons, gear, bag or size limits for freshwater crayfish, and neither a recreational nor commercial license is needed. It is illegal to take Florida’s imperiled crayfish (Panama City, Sims Sink and Black Creek crayfishes) and all cave-inhabiting crayfish.” but check with your local authorities to be sure. I would expect anywhere near you (or near where you collect your crayfish) would be able to update you on the guidelines or give you some guidance on where you can find that information.
I’m in Pennsylvania I’m from Florida….
Hello Mary Stacy, I’m sorry, I misunderstood your first comments. Yes, in PA, the heads must be removed to legally remove the crayfish from the water they were collected from, even for taking them home to eat them.
I was interested in getting a cherax destructor…but now seems I can’t. Is there any sort of permit that can be obtained for this purpose?
Hi Joe, That would depend on your reason for keeping it (ie: educational, conservation, etc) and where you are located but I highly doubt it. That species is listed as a High Risk species by the US Fish & Wildlife Service from what I’ve been able to find. I would recommend contacting your local Fish & Wildlife Offices at the links at the bottom of this blog for more information.
That is interesting…considering the high risk factor is surprising they are aquacultured in the US
It certainly is. The rules regarding crayfish have been changing and evolving over just the last few years so what is allowed now may be regulated or even banned in the future. The ban here in Pennsylvania is only a few months old and other states have already had bans in place and may be changing their own restrictions in the future. Unfortunately, we as aquarists may feel the brunt of these changes.
oh well, looks like I’m going shrimping! LOL
So if I purged them and half boiled them where I was fishing would I wonder how much crap I would get seems like a waste to me beings I love eating them
Let’s see…The Manatawny is infested with rusty crayfish. The Manatawny runs into the Schuylkill, the Schuylkill runs into the Delaware, the Delaware is fed by dozens of tributaries as is the Schuylkill. Conclusion: The Rusty crayfish has or will infest most of eastern PA and a large part of NJ.
Before this year I would set out minnow traps to capture crayfish which I would take home and prepare them in delicious ways. It is very important to keep these little suckers alive until their hot bath is ready. Now due to the brilliant “reasoning” of some highly educated bureaucrat the aforementioned has suddenly become a crime. I never would have thought that the best way to eliminate the rusty crayfish problem would be to make it difficult to take them and let them go on breeding.
Hi Buck, There are links at the end of this blog to the local government agencies responsible for these regulations if you would like to share your concerns with them.
Wait, so I am not allowed to raise native crayfish in an aquaculture system to feed my own family? That is insane!
The only reason I’m buying a PA Fishing license is to catch BOILING EDIBLE CRAYFISH PERSONAL CONSUMPTION. Are you saying that’s ILLEGAL in PA?
Hi John, I would recommend contacting the PA Fish & Boat Commission at the link above if you have questions about your license.
My daughter lives in Bucks County and would love to have a crawfish boil in Ottsville. She was just informed that she can not have Fed Ex deliver live crawfish any longer. It this craziness correct? Can you get a permit perhaps for that crawfish boil party weekend.
Hi Lisa, That is correct. The laws changed back in 2005 as mentioned here and live crayfish can’t be transported. It looks like the original link we posted here when this law changed is no longer valid but you can find another page with these details here. I don’t know of any temporary permits but I would recommend checking with the PA Fish & Boat Commission or asking a local seafood supplier in your area what they are able to get for you. I know from personal experience that frozen crayfish are still available.
I have two ponds on my property and would like to stock one with crayfish, if legal. I share everyone’s concern with non-native or invasive critters and don’t ever want to be part of hurting our great environment. Are there any native to PA crayfish that would be available as a source of bass food and even for my wife and I?
Thanks for your help
Hi Earl, The restrictions in this article apply to all crayfish, native or not.
I absolutely understand not wanting to have live crawfish RELEASED into the wild…. but saying we can’t buy them and have them shipped to us live for a cookout and boil is a bit ridiculous. I honestly didn’t know this was illegal as we literally just ordered last summer and had 30 pounds delivered to our house for a boil.
We’re reaching out to fish and game because we have another boil coming up and I need clarification here, if we’re eating them and they won’t be anywhere near the native waterways, I don’t see why any of this should apply.
I guess you could only buy frozen crayfishes, live crayfish is much fresher and tastier.
Has the Ban on non- native Crayfish been uplifted to transport for breeding purposes in the year 2021? Thank you!
Hi Kevin, The rules have not changed to my knowledge. You can view the PA Fish & Boat Commission Aquatic Invasive Species information at this link. I would recommend contacting them directly with any questions on those regulations.
I had a pet crawfish by accident in a way. My young son brought it home from a neighborhood pond and we put it in my fish tank. He ate the frogs and other fish in 2 days. So, I pulled it out of the tank and put him in a large flat fishbowl on the kitchen counter. I fed him different select meat chunks every morning when we turned the lights on. On morning the kids and I got busy getting ready for school and didn’t feed the crawfish right away. My crawfish climbed on his rock, leaned back and waved his legs at us, “hey, what haven’t you fed me yet?” We all laughed at the sight. From that day forward, we made the crawfish climb on his rock, lean back, wave his legs, wave his claws, and ask for food. My neighbor had a salt water tank and her octopus would beg for food. If you didn’t feed it, he would spit water across the floor. She had to relocate the tank into the kitchen because he was ruining the living room carpet.