Red Swamp Crawfish Withdrawn from Injurious Wildlife Petition to U.S. FWS

by / Newsroom Ink on December 12, 2016

U.S. Senator Vitter (R-LA) calls crawfish proposal “laughable” in brief fight.

An effort to include Louisiana’s red swamp crawfish among 43 new “Injurious Wildlife” species under the Lacey Act has been withdrawn until more analysis can be done on the bayou staple, according to the organization that filed the federal petition.

The petition was submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this fall by the Center for Invasive Species Prevention (CISP), a public charity incorporated in Bethesda, Maryland. CIPS conveyed that their intent was to prevent additional introductions of damaging species already in the country, help stop harmful species’ interstate spread, and halt invasions by native species outside of their native ranges.

“There was absolutely no merit to the outrageous efforts to damage Louisiana’s crawfish industry, which is exceedingly obvious now that the outside organization has agreed to remove the red swamp crawfish from its petition,” said U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).

Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

In a statement last week, the Center acknowledged more research was necessary to determine the appropriate long-range claims about the Red Swamp Crawfish (Procambarus clarkia), the most populous of all crawfish in Louisiana.

“We recognize that this crayfish species has major economic value. It is an important part of peoples’ livelihoods in Louisiana in particular,” the statement read. “By no means do we want anyone in that business to feel threatened by the Petition. We now plan to withdraw and reconsider that species after we do more analysis. Then we will consider whether a new Petition tailored to that species is warranted.”

Last week, Sen. Vitter sent a letter to FWS Director Dan Ashe, urging the agency to reject CISP’s petition that would have “shut down the majority of Louisiana’s crawfish industry, which contributes more than $172 million to the state economy each year,” Vitter wrote in the letter.

Vitter took issue with CISPs claim that the red swamp crawfish, also known as the red swamp “crayfish”, is injurious to Louisiana.

“(That) is almost as outrageous as the fact that CISP stated in their petition that the red swamp crawfish offers no ‘essential economic or other benefits that outweighs their current or potential harm to the United States’.”

Vitter argued that crawfish aquaculture has been a significant source of income in Louisiana since the late 1800s. Land area dedicated to crawfish approaches 226,000 acres, and production of the red swamp crawfish specifically has doubled to 127.5 million pounds in the last quarter century, Vitter wrote.

CISP’s recommendation, if approved, could have resulted in the arrest and prosecution of thousands of Louisiana business owners, like Frank Randol, a crawfish processor in 1971, located in Lafayette, LA.

“There was no need for this,” said Randol, who runs Lafayette’s popular Randol’s Seafood Restaurant, and is also a member of the Crawfish Processors Alliance. “This would have stopped the industry. It was overreach.”

CISP’s effort moved fast because it sought to amend the Lacey Act, which did not require congressional vetting like a new bill would, Randol said. He acknowledged diligent efforts by Sen. Vitter, U.S. Representative Dr. Charles Boustany (R-Lafayette), and Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain to stop the petition.

That petition, found in full at this link, argued that the red swamp crawfish is known to outcompete native crayfish and rapidly take over habitat where it invades. It is an agricultural pest and has been shown to reduce populations of native macrophytes, amphibians, mollusks, macro-invertebrates, and fish. Furthermore, it alters the ecosystem it inhabits, changing water quality and sediment characteristics, the petition stated.

Vitter characterized CISP’s effort as arbitrary recommendations that ignored “the economic and cultural ramifications on a vibrant community illustrates how aimless CISP’s objective is and how detached their recommendation is from the interest of the American people.”

“It’s a relief to know that Louisiana crawfish will continue to be an important part of our state’s economy, cuisine, and family gatherings, and I’m already looking forward to my next boil,” Vitter said.

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