Crawfish, spiny lobster

Palinurus elephas

Crawfish

Image | Illustration by Marc Dando copywrite Seafish

Description

A relative of the lobster the crawfish is a beautiful spiny crustacean that was once far more common around Cornish shores. Unlike a lobster they are an orange golden colour  and are covered in spines. they also lack large claws, instead being equipped with spikey multi-purpose front legs and huge antennae. Crawfish are highly prized by the French and the Spanish and are suffering from overfishing throughout their range although stocks appear to be recovering in recent years in Cornish waters. 


Sustainability Overview

Crawfish were brought close to eradication in our waters following widespread capture by divers and netters in the 1970’s. Catches of crawfish are now increasing in Cornwall but more research is needed and stocks should be allowed to recover fully before targeting this species is encouraged. Crawfish are listed by ICUN as vulnerable. 

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When is best to eat?

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Gill Netting

Cornish vessels landing to Cornish ports

Gill nets are lightweight nets made of nylon (monofilament) fishing line that are anchored to the seabed and are used to catch fish by entangling the gills. Tangle nets set on the seabed are particularly dangerous for crawfish.

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Potting

Cornish vessels landing to Cornish ports

Caught in baited traps deployed on the sea bed. Crawfish are not efficiently caught in this way as they are often too large to get inside the pots.

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How we rate fish

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Cornwall Good Seafood Guide rates fish on sustainability using a scale of 1 to 5.

1, 2 and 3 are recommended, Fish to avoid are rated 5.

We use the system devised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) so our scores are comparable with the scores produced by MCS for the UK and fisheries from all around the world. For more information on scoring click here.

Sustainability Overview

Crawfish were brought close to eradication in our waters following widespread capture by divers and netters in the 1970’s. Catches of crawfish are now increasing in Cornwall but more research is needed and stocks should be allowed to recover fully before targeting this species is encouraged. Crawfish are listed by ICUN as vulnerable. 

Crawfish

Biology

Crawfish, also known as European spiny lobster, are a warm water species that are at the northern limit of their distribution in Cornish waters. Crawfish make rasping noises (creaks) which they are thought to use to communicate and warn other crawfish of danger (Buscaino et all 2011). Young crawfish are called ‘miracle fish’ by north Cornish fishermen. Unlike lobsters Crawfish are far more mobile and are known to migrate for large distances over the seabed. They are thus very vulnerable to being caught in monofilament gill nets set on the seabed for Monk and turbot.  They are long lived animals living for at least 15 years. More research is needed on their reproductive patterns in our waters. ‘Berried’ females carrying eggs are found here occasionally but it is also thought that their larvae are carried here with warm water currents so stock recruitment may depend on the health of stocks in the Bay of Biscay and the coast of Spain. In the Atlantic Crawfish undertake migration inshore in spring to breed and offshore again in late autumn (R. Goni and D. Latrouite 2005). 

Stock Info

This stock is poorly studied. Catches and catch per unit effort declined massively between 1977 and 1996 after the introduction of monofilament trammel nets to catch crawfish off Cornwall. MMO landings data to Cornwall shows an increase in landings since the mid 90’s. CIFCA have some data on crawfish.

Management

There is a minimum landing size for crawfish inside the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (CIFCA) district of 110mm carapace length. Additionally any berried crawfish or lobster caught inside the CIFCA district (out to 6 nautical miles limit) must be immediately returned to the sea as close as possible to the area in which it was caught.

CIFCA Lobster Crawfish and Crab fishing bylaw 2014 requires all shellfishermen to have a permit if landing crustaceans caught within CIFCA district. It also ensures that all fishermen submit monthly returns details on catch and fishing effort / gear used. This will enable CIFCA to have an accurate picture of shellfisheries in our district. There are also provisos that enable the authority to bring in additional bylaws to restrict fishing if it is necessary. 

Capture Info

Caught using tangle nets set on the seabed. They can also be collected by divers. Both methods combined led to a crash in crawfish populations during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

References

 
MMO landings data.
 
R.Goni, D.Latrouite 2005 Review of the biology, ecology and fisheries of Palinurus Spp in European waters. Cah. Biol. Mar. 2005 46 127-142
 
Buscaino G, Filiciotto F, Gristina M, Bellante A and others (2011) Acoustic behaviour of the European spiny lobster Palinurus elephas. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 441:177-184
 
www.sealifebase.org  visited 4/3/15 http://www.sealifebase.fisheries.ubc.ca/country/CountrySpeciesSummary.php?id=26132&c_code=008
 

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