The American signal crayfish has laid waste to the UK’s waterways since its introduction in the 1970s when it was farmed for restaurants. Like the mink, they escaped and found their way into our ecosystem, with devastating effects on our native wildlife and surrounding environment. It carries a plague to which it is itself immune but that wipes out our smaller native crayfish.
The beautifully landscaped garden featured a stunning pond that used to be home to koi carp. I say “used to”, because lurking beneath the water’s surface scuttled an army of crayfish, a predatory freshwater crustacean. How these creatures had managed to find this pond, which lies miles from a river, is anyone’s guess. The head gardener suggested that they or their eggs had stowed away on wildfowl or a heron, or perhaps they had crawled over the land. But they had arrived and their feet were well and truly under the table. These crayfish aren’t our native white-clawed variety, but the rampant American signal crayfish.
A tasty pest
Fortuitously, unlike the mink, crayfish are easy to catch and delicious to eat. In true bushcraft fashion, we decided to help the pond’s ecosystem by removing the majority of the signal crayfish, and then celebrate their disappearance with a hearty meal. Few things are more satisfying than sourcing your food naturally, harvesting it and then cooking it yourself. Shrimping this isn’t, but these crustaceans would be just as, if not more, tasty in a paella alongside already-harvested young rabbits. What better way to deal with rogue non-indigenous species such as the crayfish and the grey squirrel than by dining on this free source of protein?
Despite the fact that we were trapping in a private pond, I still needed to adhere to the laws covering the trapping of crayfish. As with rabbits, it is the act of trapping and the type of trap used, rather than the location, that are significant. After a brief conversation with my local Environment Agency (EA) officer, I was sent the relevant forms, which I filled in and sent off. Before long I received my tags certifying that I was a registered crayfish trapper.
After talking to the EA officer, I realised that a large percentage of bought traps are illegal. The crayfish traps have to be of a certain size and the entrance hole cannot be greater than 95mm in diameter. This prevents the trapping of any non-target species such as otters. I bought two well-constructed metallic traps that were impregnable to anything other than signal crayfish.
From the moment the traps were lowered into the pond baited with some mackerel, the crayfish went into a feeding frenzy. Within an hour I had to empty the traps because they were crammed full of crayfish.
After a day, I had harvested a few hundred crayfish, which brought home the effect these crustaceans can have on a small stretch of water, which measured about 10 yards by 30 yards.
We placed our haul of crayfish in a large cooler box filled with fresh, oxygenated water. Once we had finished rabbiting and all the ferrets and dogs were watered and housed in the cool, shady truck canopy, we took our bounty off to Steve’s place, where he prepared a delicious rabbit and crayfish.
Rabbit and crayfish Paella
• 50ml olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
• 1 cooking chorizo sausage cut into 1cm cubes
• 1 red pepper, cut into strips
• 4 to 6 Trimmed rabbit saddles
• 150g flat beans or French beans cut into 1cm pieces
• 1 heaped teaspoon paprika
• 3 large tomatoes grated, skins discarded
• 50ml white wine
• 250g Spanish paella rice or arborio rice
• 400ml crayfish stock or chicken stock (used to cook rabbit thighs)
• Pinch saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
• Salt and pepper
• 8 thighs of half-grown rabbit, braised in crayfish shell stock or chicken stock
• 40 to 60 cooked and peeled crayfish tails
• Flat leaf parsley
• 1 lemon cut into wedges
The method, serves four
1 Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan or paella dish. Add onion, garlic, chorizo and red pepper. Fry for five minutes stirring till softened.
2 Add the rabbit saddle pieces, stir well and allow to colour.
3 Add green beans, paprika and tomatoes. Season lightly.
4 Add white wine, simmer for five to 10 minutes to reduce slightly.
5 Add rice and stir to coat in juices. Add stock and saffron water. Stir and bring to the boil, add rabbit thighs and push down well into the rice.
6 Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook without stirring for 15 to 20 minutes. Add a little more stock if it gets too dry.
7 Check the rice: if it’s cooked then add the crayfish tails and mix them in gently.
8 Turn off the heat and cover with a clean tea cloth and allow to rest for five minutes.
9 Garnish with chopped parsley, another drizzle of olive oil and the lemon wedges.