Government is calling on members of the public in the Free State to report anyone who is in possession of red swamp crayfish.
“The species is alien and considered to be highly invasive. If the public in the Goldfields area is aware of any person selling these red swamp crayfish, such information should be reported immediately to Dr. Leon Barkhuizen on 083 256 9446 or Trudell Potgieter on 012 399 9971 or TPotgieter@environment.gov.za,” the Department of Environmental Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday.
The department is working closely with the Free State Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, as well as the local and district municipalities to eradicate and stop the spread of red swamp crayfish, which was discovered in the Free State.
Dr Leon Barkhuizen, an aqua scientist at the State Department of Economic, Small Business Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs discovered a large population of the red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkia, in a dam in Goldfields after a tip-off.
“The identification of the species was confirmed by Professor Linda Basson from the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the University of the Free State. The reason for the presence of this alien and highly invasive species in the dam is not clear, but anecdotal reports indicate that it might have been released by members of the public,” the department said.
The department said freshwater crayfish do not naturally occur in Africa and a large number of species occur in Europe, America and Australia.
“The red swamp crayfish, also known as Louisiana crayfish, that was discovered in Goldfields is indigenous to northern Mexico and south-east United States of America. The species has spread throughout the world, mostly for aquaculture purposes and the pet shop trade,” the department said.
The department said in many countries, red swamp crayfish has escaped into natural environments where it has decimated indigenous crayfish species and other aquatic organisms and caused irreparable damage to aquatic systems.
“It is also the carrier of the highly infectious crayfish plague, which has wiped out indigenous crayfish species, especially in Europe. The red swamp crayfish grow very fast and start to reproduce at lengths of 40 centimetres.
“Adults dig tunnels with depths between 30 and 90 centimetres, where mostly adults and females with offspring stay. Due to this digging behaviour, they hold a threat especially for irrigation channels and dams,” the department said.
The red swamp crayfish has been listed on the list of 10 Prohibited Freshwater Invertebrates: Alien and Invasive Species Regulations of 14 August 2014.
According to legislation, it is an offence to be in possession of red swamp crayfish and if a person is found to be in possession, such a person can be fined up to R10 million and/or a prison sentence upon conviction.
The department said various meetings and onsite inspections will be done in the coming weeks to determine the exact extent of the invasion. – SAnews.gov.za