The first Irish Crayfish Seminar, organised by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and hosted by the Marine Institute convened on 21 - 22 May. The seminar highlighted the risks currently facing the native white-clawed crayfish, a protected species in Ireland, which include the threat posed by the crayfish plague, an infectious disease caused by a water mould which causes mortality in crayfish. The seminar was attended by 75 delegates and included representatives from various government agencies, local authorities, environmental consultants and volunteer conservation organisations.
The first confirmed outbreak of Crayfish Plague in Ireland was recorded in the Erne catchment in 2015. Since then, it has been detected in five additional catchments with at least three different strains of crayfish plague detected. Ireland has been regarded as a stronghold for the white-clawed crayfish in Europe, which is the only crayfish species native to Ireland. Following its widespread decline due in large part to the Crayfish Plague, existing Irish populations could potentially be eliminated if Crayfish Plague becomes established nationally.
Dr Ciar O'Toole, who is leading the research of the Marine Institute's National Crayfish Plague Surveillance Programme, noted, "The seminar objective was to add to the knowledge on the extent of spread of the Crayfish Plague in Ireland as well as understand the possible sources of the disease and its routes of transmission. These data are critical to develop disease control measures to protect the endangered White-clawed Crayfish in Ireland." This programme, based in the Marine Institute and co-funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, aims to assess the presence of crayfish plague and invasive crayfish species in Irish catchments with known White-clawed Crayfish populations.
Researchers from Ireland and around Europe presented the latest international and national research findings, and structured discussions were held to help chart a way forward to address the challenges in ensuring the continued survival of white-clawed Crayfish in Ireland. Presentations focused on native and invasive crayfish ecology, crayfish plague pathology and epidemiology, conservation actions for crayfish, and biosecurity measures for invasive pathogen control. Deborah Cheslett, Team Lead from the Marine Institute's Fish Health Unit detailed the spread of crayfish plague in Ireland and Dr. Ciar O'Toole presented on the use of environmental DNA as a surveillance tool for crayfish plague and invasive freshwater crayfish.
The attendance from participants from all across Europe is a testament to the importance of collaborative science to understand and create solutions to protect the native crayfish of Ireland.