white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes)
On this page:
- Who needs a crayfish licence?
- Can I keep a crayfish as a pet?
- Issue of licences
- Offences and penalties
- National crayfish trapping byelaws
In Britain one of the biggest threats to the native crayfish is the presence of introduced non-native species, particularly the signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus). This species was introduced into England and Wales in the late 1970s and early 1980s for farming purposes but subsequently escaped from many farm sites into which it was introduced. The signal crayfish is quite capable of walking overland in its search for a home, it will rapidly colonise freshwater sites and can not only competitively exclude our native crayfish, but it also carries a fungal disease, the crayfish plague, to which the native crayfish has no defence. In addition to the potential impact on native crayfish, the signal crayfish has also been shown to have detrimental effects on other native fauna in British waters. Anglers too find them a nuisance as they take their bait and burrow into river banks.
It is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to release, or allow to escape, any non-native animal to the wild in Great Britain except under licence. The same offences apply in respect of certain non-indigenous species, which have established resident populations in Britain and which are listed in Schedule 9 of the Act.
Under these provisions, and others, it is an offence to release any crayfish species to the wild. The introduction of crayfish to water bodies from which they are able to escape, such as ornamental ponds, or farm ponds could also render the person making such introductions liable to prosecution under the Act.
signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus)
In addition to the 1981 Act, further legal controls on the keeping of non-native crayfish were introduced in 1996. The Prohibition of Keeping of Live Fish (Crayfish) Order 1996 was made under the Import of Live Fish (England and Wales) Act 1980 this legislation makes it an offence to keep any crayfish in England and Wales, except under licence, an exception being the keeping of signal crayfish in those parts of England where extensive populations existed before the Order was introduced and such stringent controls were deemed inappropriate. The Order lists the areas where licences are not required to keep signal crayfish. Further information:
- Controls on the Keeping or Release of Non-Native Crayfish in England and Wales (on eFishBusiness website)
Anyone who wishes to introduce non-native crayfish into the wild needs a licence issued under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. "The Wild" for these purposes is generally defined as any open body of water, including garden ponds and fish farms, even if not connected by water to any other water bodies. Therefore anyone who for example buys crayfish for placing in a garden pond would be committing an offence under the Act and therefore could face prosecution.
Anyone wishing to keep any non-native crayfish (other than signal crayfish) must be licenced in any part of England and Wales. Signal crayfish however, under the Crayfish Order 1996 may be kept in certain areas of the country without a licence (details can be found in the table below). Non-native crayfish to be kept in markets, hotels and restaurants for the purpose of direct supply for human consumption are covered by a general licence issued under the Crayfish Order. A guidance leaflet ("Crayfish Alert") has been produced for the food industry to help prevent the accidental release of crayfish.
Red Clawed (Cherax quadricarinatus)
The keeping of crayfish as ornamental animals is effectively prohibited. However, an exception has been made for the keeping of certain named tropical species of crayfish, in heated indoor aquaria. A general licence has been issued under the Crayfish Order, in respect of the redclaw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus), a native of Northern Australia. This is the only crayfish currently recognised as a tropical species and therefore incapable of reproducing in the wild in Britain. "A guide to the identification of redclaw crayfish" has been produced by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) to assist both the trade and those enforcing the legislation.
- Guide to identification of redclaw crayfish (on eFishBusiness website)
There are several other non-native crayfish species which may be found in the ornamental trade elsewhere in the world. These include red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), yabbiesa (Cherax destructor and C.albidus), Marron (C. tenuimanus) and various other species often referred to as red, blue or tiger crayfish or lobsters. It is an offence to keep any of these species in England and Wales except under licence, anyone with such crayfish in their possession, should contact the Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) at:
Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI)
CEFAS, Weymouth Laboratory
The Nothe, Barrack Road
Weymouth, Dorset DT4 8UB
Tel: 01305 206673
Fax: 01305 206602
The inspectorate would be grateful to receive any reports of non-native crayfish being offered for sale as ornamental specimens.
There is a general presumption against the issue of keeping licences or licences for the release of non-native crayfish. Applications are usually only considered in respect of keeping in secure sites for scientific research, or for aquaculture, where the crayfish are to be held in secure indoor facilities and sold direct to the food market.
You will need to obtain a licence prior to the introduction of non-native
crayfish for applications in England for the keeping of crayfish you will
need to apply on form
CRAY2, if you wish to release crayfish into the wild then you must
apply for a licence on form
ILFA1 direct to CEFAS. Applicants in Wales should contact the Welsh
Assembly Government (WAG) at:
Welsh Assembly Government
Environment - Conservation & Management (Fisheries)
Cardiff CF10 3NQ
Tel: 02920 823567
Licences are free of charge and will be issued by CEFAS or WAG following a full consultation process with the Fish Health Inspectorate - who may undertake an inspection of the facilities in which the crayfish are to be kept - the Environment Agency and English Nature. The issue of licences usually takes about a month following receipt of an application. There may be conditions placed on the licence and a licence may be time limited.
Under the Crayfish Order an offence will have been committed if a person:
- keeps any non-native crayfish without being in possession of a valid licence;
- fails to meet any conditions (specific or general) placed on that licence, including supplying listed species to a third party who is not in possession of an appropriate licence.
Failure to comply with licence conditions may result in licences being revoked and possible prosecution. Maximum penalties of up to £2500 can be enforced in cases of non-compliance with the legislation depending on circumstances, illegally held crayfish will be seized and destroyed.
Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 a person guilty of an offence shall be liable:
- On summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding statutory maximum;
- On conviction on indictment, to a fine.
On 1 June 2005, the Environment Agency introduced a package of crayfish Byelaws that will allow them, under certain conditions, to approve the trapping of crayfish in England and Wales. In the past only the Thames Region of the Environment Agency had the authority to allow this activity.
The hope is that the byelaws will aid in the control non-native populations, and where appropriate, commercially exploit them. They also hope that these byelaws will go some way towards protecting the remaining native crayfish populations.
If you are thinking of trapping crayfish you should bear in mind that there are a number of conditions that need to be met. Permission to trap will be dependent on local situations, in particular the presence of the native crayfish. The EA will also take into account the possible detrimental effect that trapping could have on other species, such as protected animals like otters and water voles. Many water courses go through private properties and it will be your responsibility to obtain the permission of the landowner before you commence. You should also try and ensure that the traps are inspected every 24 hours, and disinfected after use.
You should also be aware that if you reintroduce the caught crayfish into any other waters, without the required licence, you could be liable for prosecution under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and this could result in a heavy fine.
We would strongly advise you to seek advice from your local Environment Agency Officer before you make an application.
Crayfish trapping advice packs are available from the National Fisheries Laboratory 01480 483968. Further information on these byelaws can be found on the Environment Agency website.
There are various parts of England and Wales where licences are not required to keep crayfish of the species Pacifastacus leniusculus (Signal). Further information:
Page last modified:
13 November 2008
Page published: 17 January 2005