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Crayfish Ban – New Regulations Halt Sale and Transport in Pennsylvania

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.
 

Some Backstory

 

The Rusty Crayfish, the invader that started it all (Photo from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, via flickr)

The Rusty Crayfish, the invader that started it all (Photo from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, via flickr)

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.

 

Even aquarium species like this Electric Blue Crayfish are affected by and restricted under Pennsylvania's new regulations.

Even aquarium species like this Electric Blue Crayfish are affected by and restricted under Pennsylvania’s new regulations.

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.

 

Further Reading:

24 comments

  1. avatar

    Pa dosnt want them so they pass laws so you cant take them. Makes sense

  2. avatar

    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.

  3. avatar

    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???

  4. avatar

    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.

  5. avatar

    I’m in Pennsylvania I’m from Florida….

  6. avatar

    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.

  7. avatar

    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?

  8. avatar

    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.

  9. avatar

    That is interesting…considering the high risk factor is surprising they are aquacultured in the US

  10. avatar

    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.

  11. avatar

    oh well, looks like I’m going shrimping! LOL

  12. avatar

    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

  13. avatar

    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.

  14. avatar

    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.

  15. avatar

    Wait, so I am not allowed to raise native crayfish in an aquaculture system to feed my own family? That is insane!

  16. avatar

    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?

  17. avatar

    Hi John, I would recommend contacting the PA Fish & Boat Commission at the link above if you have questions about your license.

  18. avatar
    Lisa Schoeffler

    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.

  19. avatar

    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.

  20. avatar

    Hi Eileen,
    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
    Earl

  21. avatar

    Hi Earl, The restrictions in this article apply to all crayfish, native or not.

  22. avatar

    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.

  23. avatar

    I guess you could only buy frozen crayfishes, live crayfish is much fresher and tastier.

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About Eileen Daub

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Marine Biologist/Aquatic Husbandry Manager I was one of those kids who said "I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!"....except then I actually became one. After a brief time at the United States Coast Guard Academy, I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2004. Since then, I've been a marine biologist at That Fish Place - That Pet Place, along with a Fish Room supervisor, copywriter, livestock inventory controller, livestock mail-order supervisor and other duties here and there. I also spent eight seasons as a professional actress with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and in other local roles. If that isn't bad enough, I'm a proud Crazy Hockey Fan (go Flyers and go Hershey Bears!).