New regulations to protect native freshwater crayfish
The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas new regulations that will help strengthen existing measures protecting the native White-clawed crayfish, particularly with regard to the importation of non-native species of crayfish.
SI 354/2018, the European Union (Invasive Alien Species) (Freshwater Crayfish) Regulations 2018, targets the introduction of several species of non-native crayfish which have been included on the EU list of invasive alien species of Union concern (‘the Union list’).
The White-clawed Crayfish is considered a globally threatened species and Ireland holds one of the largest surviving populations. It is a freshwater species found in many rivers and lakes in Ireland. It is the only crayfish species found in Ireland and is protected under both Irish law and the EU Habitats Directive. Throughout its European range, this species has been decimated by the impact of a disease called Crayfish Plague, which came to Europe with the introduction of North American species of crayfish in the 19th century.
Many North American crayfish species are resistant to Crayfish Plague so can act as carriers of the disease which is rapidly fatal when passed to the White-clawed Crayfish. There is no evidence to date that North American, or other non-native crayfish, have been introduced to Ireland and, until 2015, Ireland was considered free of the Crayfish Plague. The disease, however, has now reached 5 rivers in Ireland, possibly by spores carried on fishing equipment. The prospect of the disease being controlled depends on the absence of non-native crayfish.
The threat from introduced crayfish remains very high. Furthermore, if alien crayfish were to become established they would also have a severe impact on other freshwater species such as salmon and trout, on freshwater habitats (e.g. destabilising canal and river banks by burrowing), and the fisheries they support.
These important new Regulations will have an immediate impact in providing authorities in Ireland with the powers to prevent the arrival and spread of the five non-native species of crayfish included on the EU list of invasive alien species of Union concern.