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.
Crawfish were brought close to eradication in our waters following widespread capture by divers and netters in the 1960’s and early 70's. Following a surprise resurgence in the last few years catches of commercial landings of crawfish are now increasing in Cornwall. Latest reports by Cornwall IFCA show that landings per unit effort of netters targeting crawfish off the west and north coasts of Cornwall have decreased dramatically (up to 85%) in 2018 which is a worrying sign that this species may once again be heading for over exploitation. Stocks should be allowed to recover fully before targeting this species is encouraged. Crawfish are listed by ICUN as vulnerable. Currently there is no limit on quanties of this species landed or the amount of effort on this stock. There is a minimum landing size but that alone is unlikely to prevent overfishng as was shown before. Better management is urgently needed, and indications are that gill netting is already resulting in overfishing of this recent recolonisation.
In 2021 a total of 38.3 tonnes of crawfish were landed to Cornish ports with a value of £982k (MMO data).
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.Learn more
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.Learn more
Caught by divers. In the past this has led to over exploitation of this species over reefs and wrecks within diveable depths.Learn more
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.
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 (tangle 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 Brittanny, 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).
This stock is poorly studied. Catches and catch per unit effort declined massively between 1977 and 1996 after the introduction of monofilament trammel nets and tangle nets to catch crawfish off Cornwall. MMO landings data to Cornwall shows an increase in landings since the mid 90’s. Since 2016 CIFCA have been recording detailed landings infomation on crawfish. It appears that recent increases in crawfish reported in Cornish waters is due to a successful recruitment event. It is not known if more than one year of good recruitment took place. More research is needed. When this large cohort of juveniles reach the minimum landing size there is a danger that they could be over-fished before they have had a chance to reproduce. In 2019 CIFCA have reported that catches per unit effort in the gill net fishery decreased around much of Cornwall between 2016 and 2018, suggesting that this stock is once again being over fished.
There is a minimum landing size for crawfish inside the Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (CIFCA) district of 110mm carapace length. This is larger than the eu minimum size which is 95mm. 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 byelaw.
There is no catch limit or quota for this species, or limit on fishing effort in terms of number of nets or pots being used. The managment in place is the same as that which was in place when this species was overfished in the 1960's and 1970's.
CIFCA Lobster Crawfish and Crab fishing bylaw 2016 requires all shellfishermen (and divers) to hold a commercial fishing licence and a CIFCA shellfishing 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.
Crawfish (spiny lobsters) are a 'designated feature of conservation importance' in the Manacles Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) and Padstow Bay and Surrounds MCZ. For both sites, spiny lobsters have a general management approach of ‘recover’ to favourable condition. For each species of marine fauna, favourable condition means that the population within a zone is supported in numbers which enable it to thrive, by maintaining:
Currently most crawfish caught in Cornish waters are caught using monofilament nets (tangle nets or trammel nets) set on the seabed. They can also be collected by divers, a method that can extremely rapidly deplete stocks on key sites such as wrecks or reefs. Both methods combined led to a crash in crawfish populations during the late 1960's and early 1970’s. Without careful managment there is a high risk that this pattern could be repeated.
Live oysters are mainly served raw. All you need is a knife, a bottle of good wine, and a little lemon or tobasco and away you go!