Brief

First ever convictions under invasive species laws hit crawfish company

By: - November 1, 2022 6:00 am

“BluffyWaters” by Garelvirat is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced the first ever criminal convictions under the state’s invasive species law, Chapter NR 40. In this case, the species was imported red swamp crayfish, native to the southern U.S. Red swamp crayfish, however, are not native to northern states including Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota.

The investigation was launched in 2020 after live red swamp crayfish were offered for sale at several grocery stores. It wasn’t long before the DNR received a report from a walker in Ozaukee County, who encountered an “aggressively acting” crayfish. DNR law enforcement personnel tracked the crayfish to a house some 340 feet away, where a crayfish boil took place  a few weeks before. Further investigation, according to a DNR press release, uncovered evidence  that red swamp crayfish had been imported heavily throughout the Great Lakes region.

“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 Lt. Warden Robert Stroess, DNR Administrator of Commercial Fish and Aquatic Species in Trade Enforcement. “They are prolific and resilient.” Distributors for the crayfish were sent letters informing them that importing the species is illegal under many jurisdictions. The Louisiana Crawfish Company was one of the businesses contacted. Yet, according to the DNR, the company continued to ship nearly 13,000 more invasive crayfish to Wisconsin after receiving the letter.

“Try as we may, education and outreach don’t always change the behavior of some individuals and companies,” said Lt. Warden Stroess. “Sometimes enforcement is needed.” The Wisconsin Department of Justice charged the 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 company was convicted of 10 criminal counts, and was ordered to pay $34,380 in fines, fees and assessments. A plea deal led to the dismissal of five counts. “Our hope is that the outcome of this case can serve as a deterrent to other wholesale distributors to keep invasive red swamp crayfish out of Wisconsin,” said Lt. Warden Stroess.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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