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Home Bushcraft Wild Food Signal Crayfish, Trapping and Catching

Signal Crayfish, Trapping and Catching

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This article covers UK law and advice on catching and eating Signal Crayfish.

Crayfish - Native White Clawed on the Left, Signal on the right
White-Clawed Crayfish (UK native) on left and Signal Crayfish (invader) on right.
Photo from the Enviroment Angecy's Flickr Photostream

First lets cover the law as that is what I'm sure is on the minds of everyone who is thinking of having a go.

It is illegal to trap crayfish without two things...

a) Landowners permission .
b) Consent from your governing body ie the environment agency
(this is not a rod licence) and is free to people who are using for personal consumption and is relatively easy to get with a small amount of info, the most important being your desired area to fish.

The environment agency take three main things into account when processing your application:

1) Is the same area populated by native crayfish species (if it is there is no chance of permission).

2) Previous permissions (unusually over fishing is not there consideration as they would be quite happy for you to eradicate the population but they are looking to be fair to avoid confrontation).

3) Your trap, advice on acceptable trap-sizes for trapping these are available on the environment agency's website these are set so getting permission to trap with home made traps is difficult as the native crayfish are generally three inches in length and the signal can be double that.

This is the hard bit so be sensible who wants them gone? The environment agency, so ask the question in my experience they are extremely helpful and will be quite happy to point you in the right direction.

Don't however just except some grid references and apply, get out there be logical about suitability of the spot for you ,a three mile hike across fields is not ok for all of us and don't be afraid to go back to them if its not right for you also take some time to take notice of the wildlife surrounding your permission otters have been killed by being trapped trying to raid traps while the agency will try and point you in the right direction they can't be expected to know everything about every stretch of water.

And lastly you will be asked how many traps you would like to use, be sensible think about your factors

Time: Aprox 30 mins to set a trap correctly taking into account traveling to and from

Need: How many of you are eating them with most shellfish there best fresh so catching more than you need is pointless.

Cost: a good shop bought trap can cost up to £ 25 if your going to the trouble of getting permission then the cheep folding net ones at not ideal for continous setts ,and if you are making your own the cost in time alone will be large in itself so getting permission for 50 traps is just not feasible. My recommendation is two traps per adult eating and one per child.

Once you have been issued permission tags for your traps these need to be secured to any trap you set. If you loose one or one is taken report it don't just ignore it, make sure you have a note of your tag-numbers (these are registered to you and marked clearly on your tag)

There are two other things to be aware of

1) Once you trap any invasive species it is illegal to release it again

2) Transportation of crayfish in water is not allowed you have to transport them dry (the crayfish can carry a disease which is harmful to our native crayfish species so the environment agency do not want potentially contaminated water to be transported).

The target species Is the signal crayfish this is a non native species and has for different reasons been responsible for the decline of our native white clawed species the biggest of these being that the signal crayfish carries the crayfish plague which themselves are immune but our native species are not and the spores can last for 20-30 days in damp conditions without a host. Taking this into account we ourselves have to be responsible; good practices include thorough cleaning of any traps between use and trying to set traps in the same area over again by this I mean try not to take one trap two miles up stream and reset when first finding your hotspots on your permission start upstream and work down as you find your best trapping spots .

When setting traps look for places which may provide cover for the crayfish such as rocks, roots, etc. these areas provide cover for the crayfish and the algae which grows in these areas is also a food base for the crayfish. These areas also give the crayfish a good place to hide while hunting for fish fry and anything else they can catch and eat alive. Use your common sense setting a trap in the middle of a river won't give you good catches I try for overhanging banks with a depth of three feet I then tie ribbon to a tree to indicate where I've set traps to usually in a direct line but ten feet or so away from the bank as not to draw direct attention to the trap also be aware that you are likely to be getting wet .

Baiting Your Trap

Baiting your traps is a topic that in my experience comes down to personal experience I've read about people using cat food, hotdogs and all sorts of weird and wonderful things to tempt them into the trap one thing I will say is that they are picky eaters and in my personal experience fresh fish heads or guts are by far the best and fresh is important if its not don't bother wasting your time. Bait cages are far superior to bait jars just the fish feeding through the cage spreads the scent nicely, freezing bait blocks works well and makes good use of your fishing waste. Once you find a good spot in honesty over 48hrs a standard hall will likely to be 2-3 lbs but I have heard of 15lbs coming out of a single trap. I tend to leave set for 48 hrs but until you are knowledgable about your permission 24hr checking is needed

Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how your looking at it trapping is no quick cure for over populating crayfish and in fact you will find that at the start of trapping a new permission you will in fact increase the population as the fish caught will be the big males who are the bully boys who have been keeping the population down by eating the young. Spear fishing is much more effective for the decline of the population as you will generally spear in the shallows where the smaller females are hiding beneath the stones wilst the larger males stay in deep water and hunt fish, this is great fun and can be done without trapping consent from the environment agency as can netting, permission from the land owner is still required.

If you intend to revisit the same area for netting or spearing piling rocks will attract them into your desired area nicely and improve your catch.

Identifying Species

One of the very important things to learn is how to tell the difference between the signal and the white clawed as you will be heavily fined if found removing the white clawed from the water. The easiest way is the claws on the signal are large and heavy, red underside with a turquoise or white patch on the upper side.

And are much thinner and longer on the white claw and of course the size is the main way the signal are generally double in size of our native species.

White-Clawed Crayfish (UK Native)

May grow to 12 cm (5 inches) long, although sizes below 10 cm are more common.

Signal Crayfish (Invading Species)

Are typically 6–9 centimetres (2.4–3.5 in) long, although sizes up to 16–18 cm (6.3–7.1 in) are possible.


Preparing to eat your catch

My personal favourite is strait out of the water over the fire on the tail of the fish there are scales on the very rear of the tail there is one shaped like a fan pull that back towards the head until you feel it snap and then pull strait back this will remove the nastys. If your taking your catch home leave them in a sack they will last longer than in water as they need the air you can keep them alive for a day or so without any problem but the longer you keep them the more you deteriorate the taste at this point you will need to purge.


How to Purge

My method is put them into a bucket pour salt on them and then pour water on them this will make them spew all of the toxins out leave them for only five minutes or so you don't want to kill them then pour out the salt Water and wash with fresh water several times discarding any which float to the top.

My ending comments are if you are lucky enough to be given a permission which I'm sure many of you will be and you come across our native white claw crayfish please report it yes this will probably end up with you losing your permission but the environment agency will undoubtedly find you another and I would happily give up any permission to give them a chance of repopulating.


Article by Chris aka Mouse040 in our Community Forum

Comments (39)
39 Monday, 31 October 2016 16:27
Very informative interesting read I'm in south Birmingham and just in process of getting ea licence looking forward to tucking into more foraged food
38 Tuesday, 25 October 2016 17:25
Mighty Boosh you only catch crayfish in the summer, in the winter they go to sleep in the river bed and destroy the river banks which is why they are such a problem.
37 Friday, 09 September 2016 09:26
dave barking
anyone tried in dagenham and barking area .info welcome .thanks
36 Sunday, 17 July 2016 09:54
Great article.

"crayfish chris", get yourself over to Hartham Common in Hertford. There are usually quite a few people hauling crayfish out of the River Lea and the other rivers that flow through the common. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, most people are dropping open nets into the shallow rivers and catching crayfish almost immediately.
35 Friday, 08 July 2016 22:30
hedgerow anni
Back again guys, contacted Exmoor house for information but as yet not heard back. Bit disappointing really. Meantime iv made a pillow trap and will be contacting the relevant authority to get the permits for the trap next week. This is a bit of a departure for me as my main thing is foraging for plants and berries. Todays haul is a tub of blueberries and wild strawberries, the raspberries are not quite ready yet,but my annual wild woodland birthday cake seems assured.
34 Monday, 04 July 2016 09:20
hegderow anni
I hear there are crayfish in the river barle and exe near Dulverton on Exmoor. The rangers have been doing some sort of survey to find out how many there are. Worth contacting Exmoor house to find out if they would like help removing the reds. I am going to try and find out today the situation and will post details later if i get good news.
33 Sunday, 03 July 2016 22:57
Annie l-a
If anyone is in the Exmoor area there are crays in the river barle near Dulverton don't know exactly where but have heard that there is some sort of research going on with the local rangers to see how bad the problem is in the river there. Just been talking to a river bailiff today whilst learning how to cast a fly, so going to make a trap and have a go sometime in the next week or so.
32 Monday, 30 May 2016 23:34
Dear Author,
Thank you for the information. Is there a place near Reading where I can go and catch crayfish?
How to find out if there is one?
Reg ds
31 Wednesday, 27 April 2016 10:08
Any in S Wales?
30 Saturday, 09 April 2016 13:44
Conrad Haswell
Do I just need to appeal to the local environment agency or do I need a licence of some sort? I am very new to this concept. I live in England of course. I am planning to just catch a few, not as a large quantity or large period of time basis.
29 Tuesday, 05 April 2016 12:23
Mighty boosh
Is there certain seasons to catch crayfish or can u just catch them at anytime
28 Tuesday, 29 March 2016 08:33
I was looking for a recommendation of a holding cage if anyone has a brand name or link please?
27 Tuesday, 01 March 2016 12:47
Darren stig
Does anyone know a good place in south Wales
26 Sunday, 14 February 2016 21:29
D Balaam
Can I trap crayfish in the period 15th March to 15th June, closed fishing season. Do crayfish fall into the same category?
25 Sunday, 14 February 2016 11:12
Hi there, anybody know if there's anywhere in Cornwall that we can catch crayfish. Live in the Newquay area. Obviously when licienced.
Have a young family so keen to learn.
24 Sunday, 14 February 2016 09:21
Frederick Devon
Can anyone point me in the right direction to where I can catch signal crayfish
23 Tuesday, 09 February 2016 14:27
Richard Chadwick
Hi I have just applyed for my E A cards and was wondering if anyone could help.
I live in wharfedale and next to the river Wharfe Nr Ilkley is there any known spots for the Signal Crayfish?
22 Tuesday, 09 February 2016 14:17
I've just applied for my E A cards and was wondering if anyone knows of a good place to catch the signal crayfish in the wharfedale area (river Wharfe) Nr Ilkley?
21 Wednesday, 18 November 2015 23:42
Parmo muncher
Does anyone know of any spots on and around Teesside?
20 Tuesday, 20 October 2015 19:34
roland mclean
are there any local spots in lancashire what have these american crayfish ? Burnley area..OR LANCASHIRE PLEASE
19 Wednesday, 09 September 2015 12:39
I have gotten my traps and tags etc from the environment agency but finding a spot to place them proves to be testing. We are along the river Kennet in Berkshire.

Every stretch of the river appears to be privately owned with no access! Complete rubbish!
18 Thursday, 20 August 2015 22:46
Try the grand union canal, aylesbury arm, or tring ressies, full of the feckers!
17 Thursday, 30 July 2015 17:57
crayfish chris
Hi everybody.

I am looking to find places near harlow Essex to catch these crayfish and hoping to get permission from some lakes/rivers so if anyone knows please let me know
16 Thursday, 23 July 2015 12:40
I have four traps and I have my E.A cards for trapping ...but cant find any crayfish in the places I told them ....any ideas of where to trap around Walsall
15 Monday, 16 March 2015 10:10
Judy Bischoff
Any advice will be welcomed. We are on the river Eden which I believe is over-run with signal crayfish and we wish to catch them to eat.
14 Wednesday, 25 February 2015 12:29
Brummie bushy
Is there anywhere south of Birmingham that's good around Stourport and Kidderminster area ?
13 Monday, 27 October 2014 17:56
David attenborough
I would recommend spam on a line
12 Sunday, 17 August 2014 20:16
king crab
i put my traps out for the first time last week x 2 & caught 32 , on cut up macral
just set the traps again tonight with the same bait , been told the smellier the better
is this true or do i need fresh bait ?
11 Friday, 11 July 2014 16:46
10 Tuesday, 14 January 2014 11:38
robin combe
with EA permission I have been trapping signals in a half acre pond for 2years and 4 months. To date my total catch is 19.723 !! the aim being to eradicate them and prevent them repopulating the Glaven.Its come down to me or them at 80 yrs old |I fear they are winning!!
9 Wednesday, 11 December 2013 13:27
Helge Krebs
Hi Mouse,

Very good and interesting article. I just can confirm each information some one needs is covered.

I live in Worthing and try to apply at the EA for a license. They were very helpful and spotted me the right streams. What I'm really struggling with is to get the permit from the landowners or rather the Angle Societies. Both are very concerned about it and don't want to let me trap the signals. I was very surprised to realize that.

So my question is does some one know a river/stream in West Sussex where I can find these little bustard and an open landowner who will give me the permit?… I spent hours to send emails and days as I went directly to the farmers to ask for permission. It is very disappointing!

8 Tuesday, 10 December 2013 22:23
Great article and it covers everything someone should know for trapping. This side was also my first starting point as I looked how to catch the non-native crayfish in September.

I can agree the EA is very helpful to find some places where the signals live… My biggest issue is to get a permit from the landowners or rather Angle Societies. They were very concerned about and don't want to let me trap. I spend a lot time writing emails and went directly to the farmers who own normally the fields next to the streams, rivers & ponds without success. It became very frustrating!
On the other hand the Angle Trust raised the flag to improve the fight against these invaders on the other I got blocked. I just can speak for my own and the experience I mad here in West Sussex. For any help or other ideas I'm very open and thankful.
7 Tuesday, 26 November 2013 17:55
Kevin in Rwanda
You people are so over regulated its a wonder farting is not against the law. But maybe that's why the UK has become noncompetitive. You cant breath for rules and regulations. Guys sort yourself out. the place seems to be run buy a gang of Ben Elton's farties.
6 Saturday, 26 October 2013 18:02
Very interesting reading covers lots of areas that I would personally not of thought off. What I would like to know is how you go about getting permission e.g finding out who the land owner is, also are you allowed to use traps on waters owned by the environment agency where you pay a day ticket.
5 Monday, 30 September 2013 07:50
john mckenzie
any pike fishing man will tell you that signal cry fish a big problem on sundy every one of our dead baits where striped to the bone
4 Thursday, 26 September 2013 07:35
Great post
A very interesting and informative article.
I've had the pleasure of trapping with Chris and he is a true professional.
Good one buddy.
3 Tuesday, 20 August 2013 16:33
a great read very interesting i once caught 140 on a handline using chicken breat at a friends water mill very tasty
2 Saturday, 10 August 2013 20:12
henry vii
very interesting
1 Tuesday, 06 August 2013 07:37
chris faulkner
thanks for the effort put into the post

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