Although not an issue in Ayrshire at present, American Signal Crayfish (ASC) are all around us on the Clyde and in Dumfries and Galloway and they pose an enormous threat to our salmonid populations should they ever be introduced. Last year we had two reported sightings in Ayrshire but neither have been confirmed. With this in mind, ART staff have always been keen to take every opportunity to learn the very latest control techniques and this week Meryl, Gordon and myself headed to Ballachulish in Lochaber to assist with an emergency eradication attempt by Lochaber Fisheries Trust, Highland Council and Forestry Commission Scotland.

A panoramic view of the large pond

The aim was to treat two quarry ponds in Ballachulish where ASC were first recorded 10 months ago in the larger of the two lochans. The smaller pond was to be treated as a safeguard as no crayfish had been trapped there despite its close proximity to the large pond. The larger pond is around 18000 sq m with an average depth of around 2m and a maximum of 11.7m. The cost of this project is around £80K of which £35K was for a biocide (Pyblast) to treat the water. Several Trusts provided staff to assist including the Annan, Galloway, Connon, Ness and Beauly and of course ART. Other helpers came from Forestry Commission, and Highland Council, SNH and SEPA (a total of around 25 people over the two days assisted). Why did so many organisations provide assistance? The answer is simple really, biocide treatment is a relatively new and very much a developing method. Trusts in particular recognise that pulling resources in times of need can produce results. Lochaber FT couldn’t have managed this without help and neither could we if we had a similar emergency.

There were gallons and gallons of chemicals to apply

There was no better opportunity to gain this invaluable experience and capacity building will only strengthen and prepare the Trust  should similar challenges arise. At present, Biocide treatment provides the only realistic opportunity to eradicate these creatures and only if used early and in particular circumstances. Once established in rivers and large lochs it is virtually impossible to eliminate ASC. Prevention is absolutely essential; just consider loch Ken and the impact that ASC has had on angling and the economy!

Anyway, I’ve posted a few photos taken over the last two days at Ballachulish. The result of everyones efforts won’t be know for some time but hopefully no crayfish will show up in the ongoing trapping exercise that will continue for at least 5 years before success can be claimed. Even if a single animal survives, then this whole exercise will have been a failure and re treatment may be required. Unfortunately, the biocide treatment also kills fish and invertebrates although the toxcicity should have cleared within a few weeks. Sticklebacks, newts, frogs and toads were know to inhabit the ponds, With no link to other watercourses, no trout or other fish species were thought to be present and had never been seen.

 

A large American Signal Crayfish

 

The red underside to the claws acts as a warning sign to predators hence 'Signal' in the name

 

Meryl Norris (ART) with midge net attire accompanied by Nick Chisholm (Annan) spraying the surface with Pyblast biocide

 

Gordon MacDermid (ART) about to spray the margins to prevent the crayfish leaving the confines of the pond

 

I did mention earlier that there weren’t meant to be any other fish in the pond but we did see two huge eels and a large brown trout which beached itself trying to escape the irritation of the Pyblast. Sadly this stunning fish couldn’t be saved and it was chapped on the head as it wouldn’t have survived. I’m awaiting confirmation of the weight of this fish but I’d estimate it at 6 1/2lbs. Colin Bean from SNH took it away to see what it had been eating and will let me know it’s details. I have scales which I’ll look at tomorrow. (UPDATE: I looked at the scales today and it was 5+ years old. The + means that it was in its 6 year of life and still growing).  The colour and condition of this fish was amazing and I was very sorry to see it killed but sadly there was no option. We did look across the bottom of the pond following treatment using an underwater camera but never saw another trout so I presume it was the only one and stocked by someone from a local burn or loch. It probably grew fat on young crayfish.

What a fish!

 

After day one we had planned to move onto the smaller pond but this was abandoned as we found a few crayfish still alive (but only just) on the morning of day 2. These survivors were located in two very deep areas where the biocide had failed to reach the depths. A new strategy was hastily developed and we pumped chemicals down to the depths using hoses and knapsack sprayers. We continued adding chemical to the large pond until the afternoon on day 2 and finally completed the task at around 3.00pm. By tomorrow this should have worked and hopefully everything will be dead. Time will tell.

The end of the second day

Finally, Diane and Lucy at Lochaber Fisheries Trust deserve a mention as they managed to pull this eradication attempt together along with the all the necessary funding in under 10 months which is a remarkable achievement. The whole process was well organised and ran smoothly and this was undoubtedly due to their hard work, determination and skills.

V is for Vegetarian! Diane scoffing her museli as the midges scoffed her! She is normally more friendly than this.

 

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5 Responses to Crayfish Eradication, Ballachulish

  1. james says:

    I hope this was not a deliberate training exercise, trout have been caught in the large pool for a long long time, myself having fished there on and off for the last 25 years.

    • This was an eradication exercise first and foremost. The fact that we all gained valuable experience in this new technique was a bonus and essential if we are ever to control the spread of unwanted species across Scotland. Those attending and assisting were amongst the most experienced and best trained on this method anywhere in the World. Biocide treatment of this nature has only been used on a handful of occasions before so I think it is highly commendable that Lochaber Fisheries Trust, Highland Council, SNH and Forestry Commission supported by several other trusts managed to quickly respond to this situation. The facts are clear; someone misguidedly introduced the Crayfish to the pond and this was an illegal act. Crayfish are highly predatory of salmonid eggs so the threat they posed to the area was just too great to ignore hence the rapid and costly eradication attempt. There was only one trout that appeared during the course of the treatment and sad that it couldn’t be saved, it was just one fish. Much better to protect the wider Lochaber populations than to leave a timebomb ticking.

  2. James says:

    Mmmmm no comments, seems that my last comment touched a nerve.

    How convienant a pool with no outlets in a quarry, owned by a public body, 80k of the publics money, whaho no wonder you are all smiling.

    “There was no better opportunity to gain this invaluable experience and capacity building will only strengthen and prepare the Trust should similar challenges arise”

    • James,
      your last comment was only made a short while ago and no one monitors the blog daily although I do my best. As I stated in my reply to your previous comment, this was a time-bomb ticking in Lochaber. Surely you see the benefit of eradicating an alien species for the benefit of local and visiting anglers (which presumably you are?) and the rural economy? The implications of doing nothing could have wide reaching financial implications in the area. Just consider the impact Crayfish have had on Loch Ken and it’s local economy.
      The only people to make money out of this were the chemical manufacturers and the pump hirers. ART attended free of charge as did all other external Trust staff. LFT covered their costs which is fair as they had a huge amount of work and like other Trusts, they are a charity and a not for profit organiation. FC, SEPA, Highland Council and SNH provided staff free of charge too. I can’t see where your grievance is. You as an angler are bound to benefit from this in the long run.
      Trout must have been stocked at some point in the past and if wanted and approved by Marine Scotland Science, can be stocked again in future.

  3. Lucy says:

    Well said Stuart, this project was essential to prevent the spread of Crayfish into other parts of Lochaber where they could have had a devastating effect on the native fish populations. All of the locals I spoke to during the two week operation were supportive of the project and could see that it was necessary for the long term good of the area.
    It is easy to ignorantly criticise such eradication attempts, suggesting that people were in it to make money, however the reality is most of the organisations involved actually gave their time/services free of charge.
    The reason the project was so expensive was because we used a poison which wasn’t harmful to mammals or birds, and that would break down quickly so the pond wasn’t toxic for long, which surely no-one can find fault with.
    It was a shame that such a magnificent trout died as a result of the eradication, however it was one of very few fish present in the pond, and the only trout (there were about half a dozen eels which we found in the days following the eradication).
    We are incredibly grateful to everyone who gave their time to help us with this project and hope it has raised awareness about the problem of introducing non-native species.