This time of year, right through the winter, there’s people poking around the river after Murray Crays.
This year there seem to be more than usual. It’s because of the Lockdown, the Boss reckons – any excuse to get out of the house is good enough. There’s certainly been a fair bit of winter camping these past few weeks.
And the cray fishers are keen enough: first of all they need a boat to get their nets out, which is tricky when the river is running high like it has been. And the water is nippy too, so it’s no time to lean too far across the gunnels and fall in – unless you’ve got a handy oily coat like me.
The Boss says the rules are pretty strict: the can only use hoop nets of limited size, with a float and the name and address of the fisher attached. There’s a limit of five nets per fisher and the short season runs from June until the end of August.
Any female cray “in berry” has to be returned to the water straight away. The eggs lie under the female’s tale, they’re a kind-of beetroot colour and she has hundreds of them. And the only crays that may be kept are between 10-12cm along the carapace (the hard shell from the eyes back to the start of the tail.)
Some blokes will spend all weekend, baiting their nets with chook carcasses and checking their nets every hour or two – all for a bag limit of two crays each.
Which means they must be pretty good to eat. The Boss says so, anyway.
“Some say it’s the best crayfish meat you can taste anywhere, General. There’s just not that much of it because they don’t have a very big tail.”
Nevertheless, the Murray Spiny Freshwater Crayfish is said to be one of the largest freshwater crays in the world – second only to the Tasmanian Giant Freshwater Crayfish – and lives up to 35 years.
The mature crays have big white claws and an olive or black back, covered in sharp little spikes. The female will lay up to 1000 eggs in autumn and carry them under her tail under they hatch in the summer.
The Boss says Murray Crays used to exist right across the southern basin but you don’t find them downstream of Mildura anymore, because of the locks affecting the flows. And they have become scarce in parts of the river because of the blackwater events in recent years, particularly the nasty events after the millennium drought.
In parts of the system it knocked out around 80% of the Murray crays so the regulations are designed to keep the populations viable.
He reckons the crays are smart enough to get out of blackwater and sit on the bank, dipping in to cool off their gills now and then – but they can overheat if the event happens in summer or get picked off by predators… including people!
It sounds to me like the Murray crays need everything going for them. It won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve never been offered one to eat.
The Boss says I wouldn’t appreciate it. “For an animal that will eat the parts of a hare that even the fox leaves behind, General, I’m forced to conclude you’re not very discriminating – and unworthy of a Murray cray.”
He could hardly have put it more bluntly. Woof!