LETHBRIDGE - Walking around Henderson Lake, Nicholas Sheran Lake, areas near the Old Man River, and numerous other reservoirs, lakes and creeks, you'll likely see various birds feasting on crayfish.
Their bluish -beige pinchers and carcasses are littered everywhere at this time of year; if you look closely when the water is clear near shore, you can see them scuttle along the lake or stream bottoms, to hide under rocks.
They're the "Northern," or "Virile" crayfish native to the Beaver River watershed near Cold Lake, and they're the freshwater cousin to the lobster, says Provincial Aquatic Invasive Species Technician Tanya Rushcall.
"The first reports (of crayfish) were in the Calgary area, that came out in a publication in 2011. So we have been aware of them for a few years."
Rushcall says they likely spread from the Calgary area because people tend to move live fish and bait around, and they become introduced into other water bodies. She says they are not welcome guests because they eat native plants and animals.
"They tend to eat a wide range of plants and invertebrates (animals with no backbones like insects), they'll even eat tadpoles, small fish and dead animals and fish."
But she says they are also consumed by birds, fish, small animals..... and humans.
Just like the crayfish or crawfish we hear about in the southern US, the northern variety are very tasty and as safe to eat as locally caught fish- although they must be cleaned and cooked properly before they are eaten.
The good thing is, no license is required to harvest crayfish if you do so by hand by overturning rocks or wading through the water. You can also use a line and hook, but you will need a fishing license. And there is one other caveat:
"The only thing we ask, is that you do kill them before leaving the shoreline if you are going to take them home to eat," explains Rushcall. "The retention and transport of live crayfish is actually illegal. You can face up to $100,000 or a year in jail. We really want to prevent the spread of invasive species."
Once cooked (by either steaming or boiling), the tails are removed, and once the shell is peeled away, most of the meat is there. According to crayfish afficionados and those commenting in forums on where to catch the best crayfish in southern Alberta, they taste very similar to lobster.
Rushcall says the province has been getting a lot more reports in the last couple of years, inquiring about crayfish consumption and she says they generally encourage it. The province also encourages anyone to call if and when they find any invasive species they believe don't belong in native waters.
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