Water users urged to take precautions to avoid spread of crayfish plague

Date published: 18 September 2018

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs today urged water users, both recreational and commercial to take precautions when visiting the River Blackwater catchment in Co Tyrone.

The warning comes after some dead native white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) were discovered during routine field surveys at the headwater of the River Blackwater near Aughentaine.

The crayfish were subsequently laboratory tested for the presence of crayfish plague (Aphanomyces astaci) and the preliminary test results confirmed that all three samples tested positive.

Crayfish plague (Aphanomyces astaci) is a type of water mould and outbreaks are characterised by mass mortalities of native crayfish without any apparent effect on other aquatic organisms.

All relevant organisations will be working to prevent the spread of this outbreak to other catchments in the area.

A spokesperson for DAERA said: “If you think you may have found some infected crayfish please enter the location, images and any other details on the CEDaR Online Recording website.

“Crayfish plague tends to move upstream, but at this location it is already high up the catchment, so there may be mortalities further downstream. All field staff will be asked to check the area for any further dead crayfish and will be instructed to collect them if they do and send for further testing until we establish the extent of the outbreak.”

This organism, based on previous incidences across the island of Ireland, has the potential to severely damage the crayfish population, thereby causing an ecological imbalance in the river.

Anyone using this river or any others in the catchment are being urged to observe the "Check, Clean, Dry” and “Stop the spread” biosecurity protocols after leaving the river or before returning to it again.

DAERA’s advice is:

  • Check your equipment and clothing for living organisms.

Pay particular attention to areas that are damp or hard to inspect

  • Clean and wash all equipment, footwear and clothes thoroughly.

If you do come across any organisms, leave them at the water body where you found them

  • Dry all equipment and clothing – some species can live for many days in moist conditions

Make sure you don’t transfer water elsewhere

More details about biosecurity for water users and identifying crayfish plague can be found on the Invasive Species Ireland website.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Crayfish plague has no known effects on humans, nor does it pollute the river. Crayfish help clean up detritus in the river, so the loss of this service may be locally detrimental to the ecological health of the river. They are also an important food source for otters.
  2. The department may take photographs and videos at announcements and events to publicise its work. Photographs, interviews, videos or other recordings may be issued to media organisations for publicity purposes or used in promotional material, including in publications, newspapers, magazines, other print media, on television, radio and electronic media (including social media and the internet). Photographs and videos will also be stored on the department’s internal records management system. The department will keep the photographs and recordings for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which they have been obtained. The department’s Privacy Policy is available on our website.
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  4. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office on 028 9052 4619 or via email. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer on 028 9037 8110.

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