The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs urge water users, both recreational and commercial to take precautions when visiting the Upper Ballinderry River catchment in Co Tyrone.
The warning comes after a number of dead native white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) were discovered during routine Water Framework Directive (WFD) freshwater invertebrate monitoring surveys along the stretch of the Upper Ballinderry River at Ardtrea Bridge between Cookstown and Coagh.
The crayfish were subsequently laboratory tested for the presence of crayfish plague (Aphanomyces astaci) and the preliminary test results confirmed that all crayfish sampled tested positive.
Crayfish plague (Aphanomyces astaci) is a type of water mould and outbreaks are characterised by mass mortalities of native crayfish without any apparent effect on other aquatic organisms.
The disease is not known to be harmful to people, pets, livestock or any other freshwater organisms, nor does it pollute the river/catchment.
All relevant organisations will be working to prevent the spread of this outbreak to other catchments in the area.
A spokesperson for DAERA said: “If you think you may have found some infected crayfish please enter the location, images and any other details @ www2.habitas.org.uk/records/ISI – email the DAERA INNS Team invasivespeciesdaera-ni.gov.uk or call them directly on 028 9056 9558
“Crayfish plague tends to move upstream, but at this location it is already quite high up the catchment, so there may be mortalities further downstream. All field staff will be asked to check the area for any further dead crayfish and will be instructed to collect them if they do and send for further testing until we establish the extent of the outbreak.”
This organism, based on previous incidences across the island of Ireland, has the potential to severely damage the crayfish population, thereby causing an ecological imbalance in the river.
Anyone using this river or any others in the catchment are being urged to observe the “Check, Clean, Dry” biosecurity protocols after leaving the river or before returning to it again;