What it could mean if we farmed freshwater crayfish

The red-claw crayfish.

MBOMBELA – The country’s crayfish populations are under pressure and regulated by quotas, yet it is generally prohibited to farm the freshwater variety.

Mpumalanga may have the answer to the problem. A species of crayfish, known as the red claw, is prevalent in the dams and rivers of the Nkomazi region.

Questions have been lodged with various government institutions about its use as an agricultural farming species to possibly contribute to solving the poaching problem.

Research has led to different interpretations of the species. Being an alien invader, it is classified as a category 1B species, which requires an eradication programme.

Freshwater crayfish found in Komati River

However, recent research shows it may be impossible to eradicate crayfish once they have been established.

They breed fast, are hardy and demand a good price on the market.

During the 22 years it was known to be present in the Nkomazi River, no adverse impact has been recorded on the environment.

The exaggeration of its bad traits overshadow its possible value to the country.

The red claw mostly eats decomposing material and some zooplankton.

The argument against their diet is largely countered by the amount of zooplankton destroyed by purifying water for human consumption.

The main concern of some scientists is that the parasite the red claw carries can be harmful to indigenous fauna.

However, research has shown that it is not a true parasite, as it lives in a symbiotic relationship with the crayfish.

A farmer near Mbombela, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of exposure, discovered the red claw in a dam on his property a few years ago.

They multiplied quickly, but have gotten smaller over the past two years – something he attributes to the drought.

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He enjoys trapping the crayfish to eat. It is legal to have the dead species in one’s possession in South Africa.

The farmer recounted how crayfish are bred in the Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe, and how the country wants to export it here.

He is of the opinion that it should be farmed to counter importation, and to create job opportunities.

The Lowveld water is particularly suited for them, as it is the perfect temperature.

It is estimated that an average of 50 ton of lobster is poached from South African waters annually due to international demand.

The issue is fundamentally economic

The three trains of thought on the Australian red claw are from academic, agricultural and conservationist viewpoints.

Academics present a cluster of facts that could favour either conservation or agriculture. Conservationists argue that South Africa’s unique biodiversity attracts tourists, which in turn creates jobs.

Yet, tourists also enjoy to eat food from their home country, and then this food has to be imported. Agriculturalists argue farming them is a win-win situation.

It has the potential to improve the food security of the local population as well as employment and economic stability.

Utilising species suitable for farming, while understanding its impact on nature, can ensure food on the table and reduce the reliance on imported food that can be produced locally.

For inquiries contact Mr Len Coetzer, researcher in Dardlea aquaculture on 082-436-5205 or lcoetzer@mpg.gov.za.

  AUTHOR
Mireille de Villiers
Journalist

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