Electrifying Technology Tackles Crayfish Threat

Donaghadee-based Electro Fishing Services is being assisted by Invest Northern Ireland to solve the developing threat of American Signal Crayfish to native fish including salmon and trout in rivers particularly in Great Britain and the US.

The small company, led by Managing Director Robin McKimm, is using an Invest NI Innovation Voucher to perfect technology to counter the threat in rivers, lakes and ponds. The innovative technology is based on the company’s extensive experience of electric fishing.

Experts from Queen’s University Belfast are collecting scientific data on the results of the process which has already been trialled with some success in England and Scotland.

Olive Hill, Invest NI Director of Technology and Process Development, said: “The work of Electro Fishing Services is a good example of how established companies can use an Innovation Voucher to develop a new product or process that extends its business and offers a new growth opportunity especially in markets outside Northern Ireland.

“Innovation Vouchers encourage and assist smaller companies to team up with a knowledge provider such as a university or further education college. Electro Fishing Services is accessing expertise at Queen’s University to develop the process.

“Higher and further education institutions here offer extensive expertise and are playing an important role in helping to strengthen the knowledge and technology base of the local economy.”

Mr McKimm said: “The American Signal Crayfish poses a massive threat to native species in rivers, lakes and ponds. Crayfish were introduced in the seventies as a farm diversification project for sale to restaurants and consumers but failed to attract significant business.

“Escapees and accidental release has allowed these Signal Crayfish to populate hundreds of miles of streams and rivers in England, Scotland and Wales. They carry a virus which does not harm them, but quickly kills the indigenous and relatively docile White Claw Crayfish.

“The Signals are voracious predators, eating almost anything, starting with all the salmon and trout eggs, then the grass over hanging the river bank.

“With the female carrying more than 250 eggs, the invasive Signal Crayfish has now reached plague proportions and biologists have been desperately seeking a way of halting its relentless spread.

“It is a killing machine that will destroy life in Britain’s waterways. I began developing the process four years ago in response to a request from a River Trust contact in the North of England who knew about our company’s expertise in electric fishing equipment.

“The crayfish can burrow up to one metre into river banks. The sheer numbers and size of the burrows causes river banks to collapse leading to injury to farm animals and contributing to flooding.

“We zone the river or stream; remove any other fish by electro fishing, then use extra high power pulses to kill the crayfish.  This process is repeated in three minute bursts every 30 minutes for at least four days when it is hoped that we will have passed the minimum viability density. The river can then returned to its normal state and other fish restored.

Mr McKimm plans to license the technology in Britain, Europe and the US.