Crawdad pie, anyone? In Kodiak, an invasive species proliferates

There’s somewhat of a slow motion invasion of a fresh water crustacean happening in Buskin River and Buskin Lake. It has a hard shell, two claws and tastes great in pies.
“Crawdads, crawfish, crayfish, it all depends where you grew up,” says Blythe Brown of the Kodiak Soil and Water Conservation District.
Crayfish. Photo by coniferconifer / flickr
Crayfish. Photo by coniferconifer / flickr

Brown says they’ve caught a lot of crayfish this year compared to the roughly one per year they’ve found in the past. They went into the project last year hoping to find out whether crayfish were breeding and, this year, they did a little bit of experimenting with traps.

“The crawdad that was found last fall was quite large, so we thought well, maybe our traps, the openings’s not large enough, so we enlarged the traps, talked to other people from other places that had grown up with crawdads and they said, well, try a oily, stinky dish or something. Some bait that they might like better. So we tried herring this year and it worked.”

Alex Hughes is a Fish and Game technician who volunteers with KSWCD.

“I’ve caught crayfish my whole life. I grew up in the Midwest and that was kind of the thing – I’d just go out and play in the river behind the house and catch frogs and crawdads and snakes or whatever that way. It’s just kind of just fun. I like to do it for the fun factor.”

He says based on their studies at the Buskin river, crayfish are successfully breeding.

“I’ve caught a couple of them just visually, flipping rocks and looking through the river especially up near the weir, near the lake. Found a couple there. I just put out traps to try to catch some more. It’s been an ongoing issue for the past several years. And the technicians that were working on the project over the summer, I think they caught a total of 18 for the summer, and now we’re trying to revive the project a little bit in the fall and catch what we can.”

Hughes says the species of this crustacean found in Kodiak, the signal crayfish, are originally from the Pacific Northwest and, as with many invasive species, they’re not certain how they got to Kodiak. They could have been shipped live to Kodiak for eating, school projects, pets, or bait.

“I’ve seen crawdads used for fishing bait before. And a lot of it is, a lot of times for large-mouth bass or sometimes panfish even. I suspect that someone brought them for that reason, but no one really knows the answer. It could’ve been a pet, it could’ve been used as a potential fishing bait. Yeah, they don’t really know how they got in the system. They just know that they’re there now.”

He says he’s concerned that if the crayfish population continues to flourish, it could spread from the Buskin River into other systems.

“We don’t really know the implications of that. What that’ll mean to the juvenile salmon that are growing or the eggs that are buried in the sediment of the river. Our worry is that the crayfish could start to sort of uncover those eggs and eat them. So, we’re trying to solve this issue before it expands into something that is more difficult to control.”

KSWCD asks that if you spot any crayfish, you remove them from the body of water if possible and report the sighting. You can do that by calling 486 5574.

If you happen to find one, contact Brown. If you come across a lot of them, you can always try the suggestions here: (http://www.cajuncrawfish.com/how-to-boil-crawfish.htm).
This story has been updated to clarify possible ways crawdads made their way to Kodiak.