Are you aware that illegal exotic Dwarf Mexican Crayfish are currently being clandestinely sold in Australia! All exotic freshwater crayfish are banned from Australia due to the potential for carrying “Crayfish Plague” and the potential to become pest species upsetting the natural balance. All exotic crayfish species are prohibited from Australia.

Crayfish plague is a serious disease of freshwater crayfish, and Australian crayfish are highly susceptible. Crayfish plague has the potential to destroy the Australian Crayfish Aquaculture Industries in all States. Redclaw, Marron and Yabbies are all highly susceptible as are all other native Australian freshwater crayfish. Freshwater crayfish are keystone species with a disproportionately large effect on the whole catchment relative to their abundance. They play a critical role in maintaining the structure of the whole ecological community, their prosperity and abundance affecting many other organisms in the ecosystem and helping to determine the types and numbers of these other species in the catchment. As keystone species, their removal from the creeks, rivers and lakes of Australia would detrimentally alter the ecology of Australia.

It was the 12th July 2016 when I heard that this clandestine trade was occurring and unscrupulous people were selling them on facebook and trying to hide their trails. Seemingly, everyone knew they were doing something illegal but these crayfish were being sold for $30-$200 each so very lucrative. My immediate concern was to alert the authorities so I immediately contacted the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) and then wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce who is also the Minister for DAWR. This department is responsible for Australia’s biosecurity and their job to keep exotic species out of the country.

Well what a waste of my time that exercise was. Over the months I kept hounding the department for answers as to why nothing is happening, week after week went by, I kept sending in more and more information as more and more of these dangerous exotic crayfish were being distributed throughout the community. Yet nothing from the department except they are investigating. Its not as if DAWR doesn’t know the risk they even listed it in Emergency Animal Disease Bulletin – No 112

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, 2005 created AQUAVETPLAN – Disease Strategy Manual – Crayfish Plague. This disease strategy manual is an integral part of the Australian Aquatic Veterinary Emergency Plan (AQUAVETPLAN).

The manual sets out the disease control principles for use in response to a suspected or confirmed incursion of crayfish plague in Australia.

National environment law is covered by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This legislation covers the import of all live animals. For the imports of live plants and animals the legislation: establishes a list of specimens suitable for live import. Only fish listed on the list of specimens taken to be suitable for live import (the live import list) can be imported into Australia. You should be aware that species not listed on the live import list are prohibited imports.

No freshwater crayfish are on the list so all freshwater crayfish are prohibited from Australia.

The EPBC Act refers to illegal imports.

On the website it states: Some of the exotic animals available in Australia have been imported illegally despite Australia’s strict import laws. Possessing illegally imported animals (or their offspring) is an offence under national environment law. The penalty for illegal possession under national environment law is gaol of up to five years and/or a fine of up to $110,000.

Despite legislation to stop this illegal trade nothing is heard from the Department of Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for 15 weeks whilst they supposedly investigate. Then on the 26/9/16 this turns up on Facebook!

Exotic Dwarf Mexican Crayfish being sold of Facebook
Exotic Dwarf Mexican Crayfish being sold of Facebook

Once I saw this I immediately contacted DAWR and the Minister as I could not believe that this was true. But sure enough someone claiming to be from DAWR rang me and advised they had finished their investigation, they had tested one crayfish and it was plague free, that the crayfish being sold are offspring of  imported crayfish, the departments only interest is imported crayfish, as these aren’t imported, they don’t care and nothing they can do.

You can imagine this was not what I wanted to hear and I advised; Im not interested in listening to hearsay over the phone I want all that in writing. In response he advised this was a Monday and the whole Department had the day off and there was no one there that day so it would be a few days before I would receive conformation in writing. Going on past performance I’m sure you can all guess there was no written confirmation within the next few days. It wasn’t till the 18th October (24 days later) that I finally received a very disturbing response from Barnaby Joyce. SHAME! SHAME! SHAME! is an understatement. For a copy of the Minister’s unpalatable response to this Biosecurity Threat to Australia “Click here”.

He states the exotic Mexican crayfish were legally brought into Australia. How can an illegal species be legally brought into Australia?????????????? Then only 1 crayfish tested for plague, what level of accuracy or protection does that give us???????????????

I’ve requested the Minister advise, who legally imported them and when; plus who is responsible for allowing this import. As yet no response but I have heard on the grape vine that legally imported is a typo and it should have been illegal. Who knows-Ill update when the Minister responds-going on past performances, that’s no time soon.

In my opinion the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce has categorically failed in his duty of care to the people of Australia, the Aquaculture Industry of Australia and the Ecology of Australia. He is unconcerned with exotic crayfish being bred and distributed throughout Australia.

Now, thanks to the Minister and his Department the clandestine trade has moved out of Facebook and into main stream media. These environmental vandals are now openly trading their illegal produce on mainstream media. Thanks to Barnaby Joyce the trade has moved onto Gumtree.

Exotic Dwarf Mexican Crayfish for sale on Gumtree
Exotic Dwarf Mexican Crayfish for sale on Gumtree

There is current Legislation to solve this problem and discourage further black market profiteering from illegal exotic crayfish. Unfortunately, efforts with the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources the Hon Barnaby Joyce, have been unsuccessful and the Minister has approved the proliferation of this exotic species in Australia. Those who were previously dealing clandestinely on Facebook are now marketing openly on Gumtree touting they have the approval of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Distinguishing between an exotic crayfish newly illegally imported carrying crayfish plague or an exotic crayfish supposedly breed from illegal imports without plague is impossible. All exotic crayfish should be prohibited from Australia. Offspring from illegally imported species should also be illegal, it is unacceptable that Barnaby Joyce considers them legal. Those now propagating offspring of those illegal crayfish are profiting from a crime with the full support of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Barnaby Joyce.

There are many other varieties/species of Mexican Dwarf Crayfish. For example the orange dwarf Mexican crayfish (Cambarellus patzcuarensis) may sell for well over $2000/crayfish when it is illegally imported into Australia. Make NO Mistake the aquarium crayfish industry is huge with hundreds of species traded worldwide. For example in America the aquarium pet crayfish industry trades $100 million USD/year.

The incentive and demand for unique crayfish species is huge. The huge sums of money to be made from the illegally importing of more exotic crayfish species into Australia and the condoning of the sale of the progeny from this black market trade by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is placing the ecology of Australia at extreme risk. Lack of action on this first illegal import gives the GREEN LIGHT for further illegal imports of exotic freshwater crayfish.

This issue is far from over, here in NSW we have far more efficient and professional Government Departments than DAWR. NSW DPI is well aware of the risks.

The NSW Department of Primary Industry states: Many European countries have had their crayfish stocks destroyed by the so-called “crayfish plague”, caused by fungus Aphanomyces astaci. It originated in the United States and spread to Europe with introduced crayfish. This fungus is not present in Australia, but tests have shown that if it were to reach Australia it would destroy many of our crayfish stocks. To stop this fungus destroying our unique crayfish fauna, the import of crayfish into Australia has been prohibited.

I have generated a report for the NSW Aquaculture Association on this Issue and the Risks. For a copy of that report “Click here”. Hopefully, these crayfish will soon be prohibited in NSW and anyone with them in their possession will be prosecuted. We will continue to push for the same in all states and continue to harass the Federal Government to pick up their game and protect the ecology of Australia. I urge you all to join with us and add your voice and question the Government Departments as to what they are going to do to resolve this extreme biosecurity risk to Australia.

Rob McCormack