'A pretty small appetizer': Native Okanagan crayfish a tasty catch - InfoNews

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'A pretty small appetizer': Native Okanagan crayfish a tasty catch

The signal crayfish.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Ian Walker
May 04, 2020 - 7:00 AM

While Nova Scotia lobsters fetch a hefty price and end up on dinner plates across the country, the Okanagan also has its very own tasty crustacean, albeit quite a bit smaller and significantly less popular.

The freshwater signal crayfish can be found in rivers, lakes, and streams across the Okanagan and is the only native species of crayfish in the region.

"Most people overlook them. Unless they've been pulled up by some animal you're not likely to see them," UBC Okanagan professor of biology and environmental science Ian Walker told iNFOnews.ca.

Walker said the crayfish look like small lobsters, and generally only grow to about two or three inches in length. When alive, they are brownish in colour and blend in well with rocks. As their shells dry out they can appear bright red like a lobster or sometimes appear blue, Walker said.

The signal crayfish is one of over 500 different species of crayfish found worldwide and one of 11 species found across Canada. Crayfish themselves are not unusual and can be found across the country in everything from rivers and lakes to pond and ditches. They are a member of the order decapod, which includes lobsters and crabs. While lobsters, crabs, and other species of crayfish are a popular meal, the small size of the Okanagan's signal crayfish has kept it largely unknown and off the menu.

Walker said cooking the crayfish is done in the same way as cooking a lobster, and the tails dipped in garlic butter are very tasty. With a freshwater fishing licence B.C. residents are allowed to catch up to 25 per day.

However, Walker said 25 crayfish would make "a pretty small appetizer."

"You'd be exceeding your daily limit before you (got) much of a meal," he said.

The tiny size of the signal crayfish seems to be the reason for their lack of popularity.

Oceola Fish & Game Club president Nick Kozub says he's one of only a few people he knows that trap for signal crayfish.

"It takes a few of them to make a meal but they are phenomenal eating," Kozub said.

Kozub said signal crayfish are found in rocky areas and he often traps them along the shoreline of Kalamalka Lake.

A cheap can of cat food with holes poked into it is placed in a trap, much like those which are used to catch crab, then thrown into a rocky area in the lake. Kozub said he waits a minimum of four hours before returning to the trap to collect his bounty.

"Sometimes you get one or even none," he said. "You never know." 

Kozub estimates he caught approximately 30 in a trap several years ago on the Kettle River outside Rock Creek but stresses that kind of harvest is very rare.

He readily admits he only ever catches a few and while they are normally two to three inches in length the biggest he ever caught was about five to six inches.

While Walker and Kozub both compliment the taste, the small size of the crayfish appears to be working in the shellfish's favour.

"Most people think they are too much work," Kozub said.

While the signal crayfish hasn't grabbed the attention or appetite of B.C. residents, Walker said very similar crayfish found in Europe is a popular meal in both Poland and Sweden. The Okanagan signal crayfish has also made its way to European rivers and lakes where it is an invasive species spreading a disease known as the crayfish plague, and causing damage to native European crayfish.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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