Aux Armes Help Save the Ecrevisse

The call is out to all who support local produce for the pan — join the great freshwater crayfish cull. There is no restricted season, all that’s needed is a license and you can enjoy year round Poulet Marengo, one of Napoleon’s favourite dishes, while helping the local eco-system too.

Napoleon crossing the Alps way before the Pacific polluted local waterways! (Credit: Wikipedia)

Napoleon crossing the Alps way before the Pacific polluted local waterways! (Credit: Wikipedia)

For the call to the cull is actually an effort to reduce the pernicious impact that Pacific American crayfish are having on the traditional European species once found abundantly in French waterways but now overwhelmed by a man-made intervention that has sadly gone wrong.

Mike Alexander our nature correspondent explains why the American invader has become such a pest and why it is now (very tasty) fair game.

Aux armes citoyens help tackle the American maurader (Credit  Mike Alexander

Aux armes citoyens help tackle the American marauder (Credit Mike Alexander)


From ragondin to Japanese knotweed, from frog legs to snails. I seem to have written nothing but articles about invading aliens over the last few months. I wish I could reassure you with a little comment about this being a specialty subject  but it is not. It seems that wherever we humans try to make our mark, or more commonly a buck, we seem to create some sort of environmental train smash.

The ecrevisse or crayfish is present in most of the fresh water ways of this country. They have been harvested here for hundreds of years and have always been regarded as a delicacy. The dish Poulet Marengo was created by Napoleon’s chef, after Napoleon won a battle against the Austrians at that Italian town on 14 June 1800. Wanting to serve a delicacy to the victorious general, but with only what was available under battle conditions, the typically versatile chef came up with a dish made with crayfish caught in nearby waters, and one that today still bears the battle’s name.

If you go down to any stream and trap crayfish today it is unlikely that it will be the European crayfish you will catch but rather one of several exotic American species that are now taking over waterways, ponds and lakes throughout most of Europe. The most common species now is the Pacific American crayfish which was introduced to augment the small local harvest.

The offender, spreads by super breeding and firing weapons of disease  (Credit: Mikle Alexander)

The offender, spreads by super breeding and weapons of mass destruction (Credit: Mike Alexander)

As is so often the case, what seemed like a good idea at the time has turned into an environmental disaster.

The Americans are at an advantage on just about every front. They are bigger, more aggressive and longer lived than the locals. In addition they are more fertile and can lay up to 750 eggs at one time and are able to breed for nine months of the year. Top this off with the fact that they are carriers of the disease Crayfish Plague which doesn’t affect them but kills European crayfish and you will understand why they have driven indigenous crayfish to extinction in many parts of the country.

This is where you and your nets come into the picture. Crayfish are relatively easy to trap and provided you have a fishing license you can put out up to six traps at a time and catch your own ingredients for a delicious dinner. There is no season for American crayfish so they can be caught year round, though June to October are the optimal months.

Boiled in a bouillon and then flambéed in butter and brandy or pastis they are delicious. When accompanied by a lightly chilled local white wine you are not only saving the environment but supporting a highly important French industry at the same time. I do realise that many of my environmental strategies follow a similar course but …. one does what one can.


Read all Mike Alexander’s gardening advice here and here


Its holiday time so join in for a spot of crayfish trapping, help cut down the numbers of the foreign invader and earn yourself a cheap delicious meal at the same time.

On the defensive: the historic local incumbent (Credit Mike Alexander)

On the defensive: the historic local incumbent (Credit Mike Alexander)

As kindly pointed out by a reader — see the comments  — below is an image of the European White-clawed Crayfish. Please also note his remarks about obtaining a special license to catch that dinner and as the reader also mentions, keep a sharp look out for the protected Mr Ratty!

The European White-clawed Crayfish [Austropotamobius pallipes]  (Credit Wikipedia)

The European White-clawed Crayfish [Austropotamobius pallipes] (Credit Wikipedia)

Story: Mike Alexander

Aux armes, citoyens!  The Auberge Napoleon offers this version of the famous recipe (try Google Translate if you’re struggling).


1 poulet fermier de 2,5 kg environ,
6 tomates bien mûres, pelées et épépinées, coupées en dés,
12 écrevisses,
6 filets d’anchois,
6 gousses d’ail épluchées,
2 échalotes et 1 carotte épluchées et finement hachées,
1 bouquet garni,
6 cuillerées à soupe d’huile d’olive,
30g de beurre,
1 verre de vin blanc sec,
gros sel, sel fin, poivre, 1 pincée de sucre, farine.

Découper le poulet en 4-6 morceaux, les fariner, saler, poivrer. faire revenir en cocotte dans la moitié de l’huile jusqu’à doré. Les retirer et réserver. Jeter l’excès de gras de la cocotte et remettre au feu. Dorer échalotes et carotte, verser le vin blanc et réduire à feu vif 5 minutes. Ajouter Les tomates et le poulet et mouiller d’eau à hauteur.
Saler au gros sel, poivrer, sucrer et mettre le bouquet garni. Porter à ébullition et cuire 30 minutes à feu doux. Faire sauter et rougir les écrevisses dans le reste de l’huile de la poêle. Assaisonner, couvrir et cuire 5 minutes. Les égoutter et les réserver.

Passer ail et anchois au mixer.En fin de cuisson, disposer le poulet et les écrevisses sur le plat et garder au chaud. Passer le jus de cuisson au chinois en casserole, y ajouter la purée d’anchois, chauffer à feu doux, saler. Hors feu, monter au fouet la sauce au beurre, puis napper le poulet.

PS: If you’re looking for the rest of those stirring words quoted in the headline, sing along here (in French and English)


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12 Responses to Aux Armes Help Save the Ecrevisse

  1. drofmit4108 September 4, 2013 at 6:16 am

    One major flaw in your article…
    you haven’t shown people what a European White-clawed Crayfish [Austropotamobius pallipes] looks like…

    Additionally, whilst you can fish for the invasive North American Signal Crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) and the Red Swamp Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii)…
    there are actually TWO invaders [both escapes from farming attempts]…
    you have to apply for a specific licence to do so…
    not the ordinary fishing licence…
    and if there is any likelyhood at all that there may be remnant White-clawed Crayfish populations in the area…
    you will NOT be granted one!!
    It is illegal anywhere in Europe to place any kind of trap where you might catch the native crayfish…
    it is also totally illegal to catch, handle or kill our native crayfish!!

    An additional problem with many of the available traps is their ability to catch…
    all be it, accidentally…
    the Water Vole [Arvicola amphibius]*…. Ratty of Wind in the Willows fame…
    also, now, a protected species in France.

    The section from the above article :
    “”This is where you and your nets come into the picture. Crayfish are relatively easy to trap and provided you have a fishing license you can put out up to six traps at a time and catch your own ingredients for a delicious dinner.””
    is, therefore misleading in the extreme.

    * {{There are now two species under the OLD A. amphibius name…
    the Southern Water Vole [A. sapidus] and the Northern Water Vole [A. terrestris]…
    but, here in France, the two species co-exist… and you need identified specimens of both in your hands to even try to tell them apart!! So I stick with the older group name of A. amphibius.}}

    Interesting collection of articles on your site, though.

    • admin September 4, 2013 at 6:39 am

      Many thanks for your comment. The piece has now been updated with an image of a European White-clawed Crayfish image and to take account of your timely warnings about Mr Ratty and the need for a special license.

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