Hundreds of illegal crayfish found in Paso; State is investigating whether any of the large crustaceans-which could endanger native species?made trek from holding tanks to Salinas River

Oct. 31, 2008
The San Luis Obispo Tribune

A pair of state Fish and Game wardens investigating illegal deer hunting on a ranch in Paso Robles this month stumbled across something else: hundreds of illegal Australian crayfish.

Wardens Frank Imbrie and Todd Tognazzini drove toward a windmill on the ranch land Oct. 12, where they suspected a deer had been illegally shot three times in the head, when they noticed four tanks. Inside crawled hundreds of adult and juvenile Australian yabby crayfish and a handful of smooth maroon crayfish, both illegal in California, according to a state Department of Fish and Game report.

gOn the ground outside the tanks were several dried crayfish bodies,h Tognazzini wrote in the report. gI looked at the bodies, and they appeared to be a very large crayfish species that I had never seen in California.h

Three miles away from the property in the 4500 block of Oak Flat Road and connected through tributaries is the Salinas River, where native species such as red-legged frogs could be in danger if investigators determine the crayfish, or crawfish as they are also known, made their way to the river.

gWe know the crayfish that are in possession

have been in possession for over a year. The potential for them washing down the watershed is real,h Tognazzini said in a phone interview Thursday.

The owner of the property, James Lockshaw, told the wardens he was raising the animals as a hobby, according to the report. The crayfish were flown into the state and brought to the ranch by a relative.

Lockshaw could not be immediately reached for comment.

If charged with importing and possessing the animals, Lockshaw could face up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 fine for each offense, according to prosecutors.

Fish and Game officials scooped hundreds of the crayfish out of the tanks with nets, some that grew as large as a small lobster, ultimately seizing about 800. In addition to the tanks, the site included a water trough and a pond. Nearby were frozen peas and fish food.

The crayfish were frozen and stored for evidence. It is not clear if Lockshaw was raising the creatures for profit or as a hobby. Crayfish that large are considered ideal for eating because of the amount of meat on them.

Tognazzini said he has not seen an operation like this involving crayfish in the county but that his department handles illegal animal cases every year, some that have involved alligators and piranhas.

Officials are still determining whether the crayfish are in the river. Biologist Dennis Michniuk visited the site Thursday to continue the investigation.

gThey breed really fast, and there were a lot of young at this site,h Michniuk said.

gAnything thatfs a nonnative, you worry about them competing for food and resources or directly impacting native species.h

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