MARION, N.C. (March 25, 2014) — Fisheries biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are asking anglers to help stop the spread of the rusty crayfish — a destructive, non-native crayfish that has invaded the upper Catawba River in western North Carolina.
The rusty crayfish, which measures about 5 inches long, is native to the Ohio River watershed but can now be found in Canada and 17 other states, including North Carolina.
Anglers can identify the rusty crayfish from other native crayfish by a rust-colored spot on its sides, just in front of the tail. They also have black bands on the tips of their claws.
Wildlife Commission biologists first discovered the rusty crayfish in 2007 in the North Fork Catawba River, just upstream of Lake James in McDowell County. Since that time, the crustacean has expanded approximately 10 miles upstream in the North Fork Catawba River and 11 miles upstream in the Catawba River, according to TR Russ, an aquatic wildlife diversity biologist with the Wildlife Commission.
Russ urges any angler who finds a rusty crayfish to kill it immediately, note its location, freeze it, and contact him at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The rusty crayfish has devastated aquatic communities and resulted in the loss of native crayfish,” Russ said.“They are an aggressive species, known to feed on fish eggs, as well as vegetation, reducing habitat for native fish and other aquatic animals.”
Rusty crayfish are often used as bait. Russ suspects that nonresident anglers who brought bait with them from out of state may have accidentally introduced them into Lake James, where the rusty crayfish moved upstream.
“So far they have only been found in the larger rivers in McDowell County and not in the smaller streams, such as Curtis, Crooked, Buck and Armstrong creeks,” Russ said. “Because it’s almost impossible to eradicate the rusty crayfish after it gets established, we are looking to anglers to help prevent or slow the spread of rusty crayfish into new waters.”
In North Carolina, it is illegal to transport, purchase, possess or sell rusty crayfish. Anglers can help prevent the spread of this crayfish and other invasive species, by never releasing unused bait into waterways.
For more information on the rusty crayfish, including color photographs, visit http://www.ncwildlife.org/Learning/Species/Crustaceans/OrconectesPrusticus.aspx.