crayfish - Haaretz - May 16 2011
Australian red claw crayfish. Photo by Haaretz
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An invasive species of Australian crayfish is threatening the ecosystem of Lake Kinneret, according to Israeli scientists.

Menachem Goren, a zoology researcher at Tel Aviv University, said the Australian red claw crayfish (cherax quadricarinatus ) could attack local fish and disrupt their breeding.

"It's enough for a crayfish like this to even so much as bother a female tilapia, which carries its eggs in its mouth during breeding season, and the tilapia will have to spit them out," he said.

The crayfish was imported to Israeli fish breeding grounds 15 years ago. Already then, experts suggested raising it only in artificial pools in the desert, warning that otherwise they might escape into the wild. But the Agriculture Ministry eventually allowed fish breeders to bring the crayfish further north.

Today Israel raises millions of crayfish every year, both for the local market and for export to Europe.

"Even in Australia, they prohibit transferring this crayfish from one area to another," said Bella Galil, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Oceanography, one of the two scientists who announced several weeks ago that the crayfish had entered the Kinneret.

The specimen examined by Galil and Gregory Sanovsky, a scientist at the Agriculture Ministry's fishing department, was nearly 20 centimeters long. It was sent to the ministry several months ago by fisherman who caught it in the lake.