By Mona Shand
LANSING, Mich. - Traps are being set and a criminal investigation is under way after invasive crayfish were found in a lake near Holland, Mich., where officials believe fishermen were using them for bait.
Red swamp crayfish are native to the southeastern United States, but it's illegal to sell or possess them in Michigan. Nick Popoff, aquatic species and regulatory affairs unit manager with the state Department of Natural Resources' Fisheries Division, said they can cause serious structural damage to the shoreline.
"They will outcompete native crayfish. They are also burrowers, so they can cause issues with our rivers and bank stabilization in lakes," he said. "Economically, we don't want them here, so we would be putting money towards eradicating them."
This is the second time in two years that crayfish were found in Lake Macatawa, Popoff said, adding that the goal is to keep them from spreading to adjoining Lake Michigan and beyond. Anyone who spots red swamp crayfish - known for their distinctive dark red color with raised, bright red spots - is asked to contact the Department of Natural Resources.
While the crayfish have only been found in one Michigan lake so far, Popoff said it's likely they are being used in other parts of the state as well, which is why the DNR is working so hard to spread the word that they are both ecologically harmful and illegal.
"Our bait shops have been very good about not importing them," he said. "It's just the food markets still ship these critters in live from the South, and they're available for, like, crayfish boils."
Michigan added red swamp crayfish to the list of banned species last year. In 2009, Wisconsin officials took aggressive and costly measures to eradicate the pest from two ponds.
More information on invasive species and fishing regulations is online at michigan.gov/fishing. Audiofile.