Rusty crayfish: A tasty treat and business opportunity
It was a discovery. There is heavy competition from a domestic invasive species in our area streams. Two local entrepreneurs are hoping to help solve the problem. Both avid outdoorsmen, Joshua Alters and Mason Golden, have started M&J Crayfish. Alters, a family friend of Mason's parents, has watched the young man grow up and gain a love of nature and the outdoors.
"He is my business partner," said Alters, who hopes the business will grow and perhaps provide Mason with a start on college money along with an outdoor job during summer breaks.
The heart of their business is trapping rusty crayfish, a domestic invasive species in area streams.
"This spring we had been fishing for a couple months, when we noticed there was an insane amount of crayfish that had developed from the last year," said Alters. "You couldn't step without kicking up 20 of them." In May they started to trap the crustaceans.
Since then they have learned a lot, fine tuning their technique and method. Working with a thorough knowledge of the species and having acquired all of the necessary permits, they are now seeking markets for the critter that is considered delicacy in many areas of the world, including Louisiana.
Their native habitat is Indiana, Ohio and parts of Kentucky. Rusty crayfish are one of 350 crayfish species which are native to North America. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is the most heavily infested of the upper Midwest states with over 450 lakes and streams affected. It is thought that they were introduced, accidently in the 1960s while being used as bait.
Since then, they have taken a foothold, displacing the native crayfish, eating aquatic plants, as well as snails, leeches, aquatic worms, insects, small fish and fish eggs. They are also, heavy consumers of oxygen.
"It is almost impossible to control the population," said Alters, who is believes anything they do to help reduce the area population will help. "All of our crayfish are harvested locally from area freshwater streams not the St. Croix River. If we find a native species in our traps we return them to the water."
On Friday, when they collected their traps, there was not one native crayfish in the nearly 15 pounds.
Some of you might remember dissecting a crayfish in biology class, others may recall the delightfully subtle flavors of crawfish etouffee or the fun of a crawfish boil for friends and family.
"Being that rusty crayfish are an invasive species, Joshua is actually making a positive out of a negative," said Paul Sickman, Conservation Warden. "There is definitely a potential for marketing them. Like any exotic invasive species, once they get in their population tends to explode."
Alters and Golden see two potential markets for their product, securing a contract with a Great Lakes Bait Shop. It is legal to use frozen crayfish tails for bait in the Lake Michigan.
"A contract with one bait shop would make this work," said Alters. "We could sell them a hundred frozen pounds at a time."
The second market is your dinner table, which is why M&J Crayfish is coming to you, Aug. 4 at the Hudson Farmers Market on Carmichael. They can only sell you the live product, but they are a wealth of information as the how to prepare them and will offer recipes as well.
"A crayfish boil is not like going to McDonalds," said Alters. "It is more of a social event." It is pretty simple, you cover your picnic table with paper and pour out the contents after they are boiled and drained. This would include not only the crayfish, but corn, potatoes, green beans and onions, then your guests "dig in." So whether you want a unique summer time experience or you want the freshest ingredients for a gourmet recipe, M&J Crayfish is ready to help.
"It is really more of an environmental move to basically help trout and smallmouth bass," said Alters of their enterprise.
"Since I was five I have been fishing and hunting," said Alters, who was born and raised in Wausau. "I'm the standard outdoor kid. Any excuse to get outside is great for me." After graduating from UW-Stout, Alters, who worked for the River Falls Police Department for seven years, took a job with Boston Scientific in the Twin Cities. He lives in North Hudson with his wife and children. Mason Golden is the son of Chuck and Mary Golden he will be attend Hudson High School this fall.
Since May, the duo has honed their method of trapping so they only set traps when they have an order or request for enough crayfish for a boil.
If you want to order crayfish from M&J Crayfish you may call (715) 441-1827.
"I recommend they call three days in advance," said Alters, including if you want to pick them up at the farmers market.
Beginning Saturday, Aug. 4, they will have a booth at the Hudson Farmers Market on Carmichael from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. located at Faith Community Church.
In the meantime, Sickman wants to remind everyone to be mindful of unknowingly transporting invasive species.
"Zebra mussels showed up in Bass Lake, two years ago," said Sickman.
1 stick butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
1 pound peeled crawfish tails
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup water
Pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped green onions
Directions: In a large sauté pan over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers and sauté until the vegetables are wilted, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the crawfish, garlic, and bay leaves and reduce the heat to medium. Cook the crawfish for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dissolve the flour in the water. Add the crawfish mixture. Season with salt and cayenne. Stir until the mixture thickens, about 4 minutes. Stir in the parsley and green onions and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Serve over steamed rice.