My name is Mark & I’ve been Trapping Signal Crayfish for over 10 years now.

It came about when my Dad was watching a cookery programme and the subject of the Crayfish came up. Free mini Lobsters, and in the middle of the country, surely not. With a few phone calls made to the Environment Agency to check on our local river, traps bought and licensed, off we went. It started off in my mind as an interest for Mum and Dad who are both retired and have a bit of spare time for a walk along the river.

  

That idea went straight out of the window when on my first overnight dip with just two traps I caught 4kg of them. We took them home and after the initial fear of the most humane way to cook them have been cooking and devising new recipes for them over the last 7 years.

Now comes the problem with them, too many, miles too many of them. Over the first few years I noticed a slow increase year on year but over the last couple it’s just been an explosion. There seems to be a particular week, the same one each year, that they come back into season. First couple of years it slightly increased each time. But, the last 3 seasons have been scary, gone from 2kg to 5kg that week, then, 10kg with just 4 traps. They are choking the rivers and HAVE to be changing the balance of the water and fish that have lived there for 100’s of years. I’ve been talking to both the local fisherman, well what’s left of them, and the Environment Agency. The locals are only catching Perch and Rud now as they both feed on the Crayfish. My contact at the Environment Agency agrees with me and has even gone as far as to say that there are parts of certain rivers in the country that are now classed as clinically DEAD.

One reason is the silt the Crayfish create through burrowing into the banks is covering gravel beds that a good few species of fish rely on for spawning the beds are too small or not even there anymore.

That’s not to mention the fungal disease they spread to our fast disappearing native White Crayfish and erosion to banks that could change the very direction of our Rivers.

I suppose it’s because it’s an unseen problem that the Crayfish are still not taken seriously and in most cases are portrayed as a bit of a novelty.

Numbers must count if even the fish that eat the Crayfish can’t survive. At some point someone is going to have to stand up and meet this problem head on, before it’s too late. The way it’s going it may not be our generation, may even be a few down the line but the numbers have to be going seriously the wrong way which can only mean the worst for our waterways.

I keep them in the publics mind but there is only a certain amount I can do on my own. I supply a local restaurant and write recipe ideas that they use to help get the customers buying. The Restaurant is called ‘Nonna’s’ in Woburn Sands and with their help I have introduced several dishes they now produce and sell. I also supply a Deli in Olney who entered  the Crayfish in the good UK Food Channels ‘Local Food Heroes’ with Gary Rhodes. Didn’t quite win but was great  turning up at the shop in muddy torn shorts and wellies to be confronted by Sophie Grigson and a film crew, they decided to film the bucket of crayfish instead of me, probably best.

I’ve been doing what I can to raise the profile of them by writing to as many people as I can to ask for their help. Myself, Dad and Son managed to get on the Hairy Bikers family Cook off series a couple of years ago where we headlined and cooked with the Crayfish, even managed to get all the way to the final.

The Bikers even said that my Crayfish Ravioli was the best they had ever tasted and when they had tried to write a recipe for it had given up. Also cooked it for John and Gregg from MasterChef at the Good Food show in Birmingham last year. Gregg got so excited when he tasted it that he insisted on a hug!!! More recently I won The ‘One Show’ Great British Cassorole competition in November this year. I was lucky enough to not only appear live on the show but also cooked for Heston Blumenthal and Jay Rayner.

Even after all those bits still not really getting the word out there, really need lots of people cooking with them now and then.

I understand that even a few tens of thousands of people starting to eat them won’t resolve the problem by any stretch of imagination, but at least it would be a start and force the powers that be to stand up and take notice of a very serious ticking bomb. Even if it only gets them to organise a study of the detrimental effect they are having is commissioned that would be a start.