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Illegal red swamp crayfish net criminal charges, fines in Wisconsin

The aggressive-acting invasive crayfish sparked investigation into multi-state crayfish scandal.

red swamp crayfish
A red swamp crayfish like this one found by a Wisconsin pedestrian to be acting aggressively lead to an investigation and criminal charges against a Louisiana company.
Contributed / Missouri Department of Conservation
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MADISON — A Louisiana company has pleaded guilty to illegally exporting thousands of red swamp crayfish into Wisconsin even after being told to keep the highly invasive species out of the Badger state.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Monday announced that Louisiana Crawfish Company pleaded guilty in Dane County Circuit Court to 10 criminal counts of violating the state’s invasive species laws and has paid $34,380 in fines and assessments.

It was the first ever criminal conviction under the state’s new invasive species laws.

Although red swamp crayfish are native to the southern U.S., they are not native to the northern U.S., including Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.

“These crayfish are illegal in Wisconsin because they cause havoc in our waterways by out-competing other species, damaging shorelines, and burrowing deep into the ground to avoid winter freezing,” said Robert Stroess, DNR administrator of commercial fish and aquatic species in trade enforcement, in a statement.

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The investigation was launched in 2020 after several grocery stores were offering live red swamp crayfish for sale. Then, a pedestrian in Ozaukee County reported an “aggressively acting” crayfish to the DNR. Stroess tracked the escaped crayfish back to a home 340 feet away, where a crayfish boil had taken place a few weeks earlier.

Further investigation revealed a significant illegal distribution of live red swamp crayfish throughout the Great Lakes region. The crayfish distributors were sent letters informing them that the red swamp crayfish being shipped was illegal under many jurisdictions. Among those distributors was Louisiana Crawfish Company. The investigation showed that Louisiana Crawfish Company received the letter, confirmed its contents, but then continued to ship nearly 13,000 more invasive crayfish to Wisconsin.

“Try as we may, education and outreach don’t always change the behavior of some individuals and companies,” Stroess said. “Sometimes enforcement is needed.”

The Wisconsin Department of Justice charged Louisiana Crawfish Company with 15 criminal counts of intentionally transporting, possessing, or transferring invasive species. On Aug. 25, the Dane County Circuit Court accepted a guilty plea from the company. The court then convicted the company of 10 criminal counts and ordered the company to pay $34,380 in fines, fees and assessments. The plea deal included dismissing the remaining 5 counts.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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