With summer on the horizon, and cookouts and backyard parties sure to be commencing as the weather rapidly warms, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) took it upon themselves to remind (or maybe inform) people that a common ingredient for those events is illegal in Illinois.

It is illegal to import and possess live red swamp crayfish, also known as "crawfish," or "Louisiana crawfish," in the state of Illinois. Anybody who has enjoyed a crawfish boil might question why something so delicious could be so problematic; enough for the a state to put the kibosh on its existence entirely...

Photo Credit: Susan Vineyard
Photo Credit: Susan Vineyard

While live crustaceans are commonly used for boils and bait by fishermen, they are a highly invasive species that have the potential to wreak havoc on the environment if they find themselves released into the wild. They are billed as an "aquatic nuisance species," due to the fact that they can have harmful effects on ecosystems.

Illinois Conservation Police Officer Brandon Fehrenbacher, who oversees the IDNR Office of Law Enforcement Invasive Species Unit, commented on the illegal status of red swamp crayfish in a recent news release:

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Red swamp crayfish compete aggressively with native species for food and habitat, and they’ve been known to cause structural damage to property. In fact, they are considered one of the most invasive species of crayfish in the world. - Brandon Fehrenbacher, per WANE 15

Crawfish Can Cause Many Problems for Humans and Sea-Creatures:

Red swamp crayfish are known to destroy the nesting and nursery grounds of fellow aquatic creatures, and prey on the eggs of other undersea life. Furthermore, they wrestle and compete with other fish and various crayfish species for food and shelter, making them extremely dangerous to their peers. They are essentially among the bullies of the water.

If that wasn't enough, the IDNR states that red swamp crayfish are known to burrow in soil around dams, irrigation systems, and levees, which can cause thousands of dollars in structural damage.

Photo Credit: bhofack2
Photo Credit: bhofack2

Crawfish Recently Resulted in a Criminal Conviction in Wisconsin:

Live crawfish are also banned from being sold or stored in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. Resides or business who import, sell, or possess live crawfish in Illinois could end up facing a fine of $195, or as much as a Class 3 felony with restitution reaching into the tens of thousands.

An investigation was launched by the Wisconsin DNR in 2020 after several grocery stores were found offering live red swamp crayfish for sale. The investigation came shortly after a walker in Ozaukee County reported an “aggressive,” unknown species, of crayfish.

The crayfish had apparently escaped from a crayfish boil, which had occurred about 340 feet away from where the creature was found. Police and the Wisconsin DNR discovered significant illegal importation of live red swamp crayfish throughout the Great Lakes region of the United States.

Read more about why crawfish are illegal in Illinois on WANE 15's website.

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Gallery Credit: Tom Ehlers

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