Crayfish (or crawfish or crawdads) look like mini lobsters, and they are related (Wikipedia definition). The problem is, crayfish are aliens and don’t belong in Arizona!
Why Is this a Problem?
Crayfish are a non-native species (they came from other places), which means they are not a natural part of Arizona’s aquatic ecosystems. In a number of areas, they are negatively impacting sport-fishing opportunities, native species, and the aquatic ecosystems that support these species.
They compete for habitat and resources with sport fish, as well as with native fish, insects, frogs, snakes, turtles, and snails, and they ravenously consume submerged aquatic plants (they eat just about anything).
They contribute to the decline of rare or declining species, such as the Chiricahua leopard frog and Three Forks springsnail, and they mess up our springs, streams, ponds, and other aquatic ecosystems.
Streams and pools inhabited by crayfish usually don’t have any submerged vegetation or a diversity of other living organisms, and the water is degraded by the silt they stir up (it can be muddy).
Am I Allowed to Catch Crayfish?
It is illegal to transport live crayfish through most parts of Arizona. If you plan to take crayfish away from the place that you caught them they must be dead. Discuss this with your parents before taking them from the place where you caught them!
Crayfish Catching 101
Catching crayfish is a great outdoor family activity, and it’s pretty easy to do. Families who would like to try fishing for crayfish can purchase a Family Fishing License at any Game and Fish Department office. (Yes, you need a fishing license!)
With an Arizona fishing license, you can catch unlimited numbers of crayfish every day of the year. Although there is no limiting season, Mother Nature tends to slow or stop crayfish activity during the colder months. Generally, crayfish seem to be most active between April and October, and in the warmer summer months, they tend to be most active at night.
Crayfish can be legally captured by a number of methods; some require active participation, while others take minimal effort. Legal methods of take include:
- A fishing pole, rod, or stick with a line and bait (any kind of lunch meat works great)
- Handheld dip nets
- Minnow traps that are less than 24 inches in length and 12 inches or less in width or height
- Seine nets less than 4 feet in height 10 feet in length
- Crayfish traps or nets that are less than 3 feet in any dimension (height, width, and depth)
- By hand or with any handheld, nonmotorized implement that does not fire a projectile (it can’t shoot anything)
Are Crayfish Good to Eat?
You bet! If you like lobster, you’ll probably like crayfish.
Crayfish Preparation Tips
Here are some simple crayfish preparation tips:
- Crayfish are small and the best meat is in the tail (just like lobster). So select your favorite recipes for using crab, and simply substitute crayfish. If you don’t have crab crackers, use a pair of pliers from your camp tool kit.
- Bring the water to a boil, take the water off the heat, put in the crayfish. Do not put the pot back on the heat. When the crayfish turn bright red, they are done.
- A variation on this theme is adding a packet of crab boil that you can purchase at just about any supermarket.
- A cool crayfish pasta salad (pre-dice your celery and other ingredients at home) provides a delightful accompaniment to a trout dinner in camp.
- You might even boil some corn, then add the crayfish to the corn water once you are done. Crayfish typically take less than five minutes to cook, even off the heat. Corn on the cob and crayfish just seem to go together.
- Also, you might want to save the corn husks and use them to wrap your trout when placing them in thick tin foil (double layered) for cooking under the campfire coals. The corn husks keep the fish from burning and sticking to the tin foil. Or wrap chicken and vegetables together in corn husks and tin foil — no pots to clean afterward.