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Confused by crawfish? | The Smelly Alley Fish Company

Lobsters, crawfish, crayfish and langoustines

These are shellfish that often get confused, especially crawfish and crayfish.

Here’s a list of various names from the UK and around the world: crawdads, crawldads, freshwater lobsters, scampi, Dublin Bay prawns, rock lobsters, mountain lobsters, mudbugs, marrons and yabbies’.

We’ll stick to these four – some of the best shellfish from the UK.

LobstersHommarus gammarus up to 60cm long

Lobsters are found in cooler waters around the eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean and parts of the Black Sea. They are mostly caught around the UK. They are closely related to the American lobster Hommarus americanus.

They have two large claws and are blue-black in colour, only changing to “lobster red” when cooked. The claw and tail meat is eaten. They are considered a “luxury” food, but the fishmongers say a brown crab is comparable and maybe nicer.

Females with eggs are protected so you can eat lobster at any time of year because females with eggs are protected. Each year thousands of juvenile lobsters are released all around Cornwall's coast by the National Lobster Hatchery, Padstow, which is well worth a visit (we’ve got the tea towel!).

There is a story (can't remember where we heard it) that British agents in northern France used artificial lobsters on the coastal rocks as places to leave messages. It's a good job that the enemy didn't realize it's only cooked lobsters that are red, because that's what colour they were!

Crawfish Palinurus elephas also called the spiny lobster, rarely longer than 40cm

Crawfish are related to lobsters, but don’t have claws. They are a brown-orange colour, and covered in spines. Crawfish are highly prized by the French and the Spanish and are suffering from overfishing throughout their range although stocks appear to be recovering in recent years in Cornish waters. 

Crawfish distribution is similar to lobsters, the eastern Atlantic, but can be found farther south, as far as the Azores. The “lobster tails” we sell are American spiny lobster tails or crawfish, these are from the West Indies, they get to a good size over there!

In the old days when Billingsgate market was busy there were often plenty of crawfish for sale, especially in September when the sea was warm.

Langoustine Nephrops norvegicus up to 25cm long

Langoustines are like small lobsters (they are sometimes called Norway lobsters), and are red in colour both before and after cooking. It has a similar distribution to lobsters, the eastern Atlantic as far south as Portugal. Half the catch is from UK waters. Only the tails are eaten, the meat is sweet-tasting. By value langoustines are the most important crustacean catch in Europe.

Langoustines are often called scampi or Dublin Bay prawns, as though the terms are interchangeable, strictly speaking they are not. Scampi are raw peeled langoustine tails. Dublin Bay prawns are langoustine tails cooked in the shell.

Crayfish Austropotamobius pallipes (native crayfish, under 12 cm) andPacifastacus leniusculus (signal crayfish, up to 18 cm)

Crayfish look like langoustines but are only found in fresh water. Native crayfish are brown-olive in colour. They are protected, so don't ask us for native crayfish!

Signal crayfish from the USA were introduced to UK waters in the late 1960s, but they carried the so-called crayfish plague that infected native crayfish, so that the native population has been driven to near extinction. Signal crayfish also burrow into river and canal banks and cause erosion. They eat fish, frogs and invertebrates, can travel overland up to 100m in a night and are generally a bad thing.  If you catch one you're not allowed to put them back in the water, so cook them.They taste a bit muddy and must be washed in cold running water before cooking. Add salt to the cooking water.

I was on Radio Berkshire this morning (31st August 2018) talking about how signal crayfish were released into a pond near the River Kennet in the 1970s at Tyle Mill - was this the beginning of the signal crayfish problem?