Members of the crayfish group are all freshwater species distributed worldwide but are most abundant in temperate climates (73,74). More than 500 species and subspecies are recognized to belong to three families (Ascidae, Parasta-cidae, and Cambaridae). They range in size from 2 to 50 cm total length (73). More than 300 species are found in North America. In Europe, native crayfish were decimated by a fungal disease introduced around 1880. Subsequently, disease-resistant North American species were successfully introduced into affected areas (74).

The signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus), which originated in California, is believed to have the most potential for farming in temperate climates (74), but other crayfish, such as the red claw crayfish (Cherax quadricar-inutus), are reported to have good potential for aquaculture (75-77). However, presently, the single most commercially exploited species is the red swamp crayfish, Procambarus clarkii. This species accounts for about 85% of world production (78). Most commercial crayfish are produced in Louisiana in culture ponds and natural habitats (79). Procrambarus spp. burrow in the mud of pond or swamp banks during the summer as water levels recede. Females lay their eggs and attach them to their pleopods, where they remain until hatching in 2 to 3 weeks. In the fall, when water levels rise, adults and the young of the year emerge from the burrows and into the water. The young of the year grow rapidly and can attain marketable size (65 mm total length) in 2 to 3 months (80). More than 60,000 ha of culture ponds are estimated to be in production in the United States, mostly in Louisiana. The annual natural and cultivated production in the United States is about 66,0001, and an additional 101 are produced in Canada. This combined total is about 80% of total world production (78).

Both farmed crayfish (November to June) and wild crayfish (March to June) are caught (usually 4 to 6 days per week) using stand-up pillow, pyramid, or barrel traps baited with natural (fish) bait or formulated artificial bait (81-83). Once harvested, 40 to 50 lb of crayfish are tightly packed inside onion sacks, protected against both excess heat and dehydration, and then transported to the processing plant, where they are processed immediately or stored live in coolers (82). The main crayfish products are live crayfish (unwashed, washed, or purged by being starved for 12 to 48 h to rid them of waste), fresh whole boiled crayfish, fresh crayfish tail meat (fat-on or washed tail meat), frozen whole boiled crayfish, frozen fat-on or washed tail meat, and frozen soft-shell crayfish (84). Information on harvesting and processing crayfish, including soft-shell crayfish, is found in References 82 through 85.

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