Crayfish are one of the most sought after species by New Zealand divers. They are a delicacy and may very well be the reason why divers seem to have so many friends.
The spiny red rock lobster as found in New Zealand is a deep red colour and and differs from a normal lobster in that it has no pincers. It has a hard, spiny body with 10 legs and long antennae and a long tail.
There is another species of crayfish found in New Zealand called the packhorse cray (Jasus verreauxi). It has different rules regarding size to the red cray so it is important to know the difference. The packhorse is generally larger and is an olivey green colour. It is not as spiny as the reds are and is much slower. Packy numbers are right down due to over fishing.
Size: Male: 54
It is very important to be able to tell the sex of crays when measuring them. The easiest way to tell is that the female has her pleopods in pairs whereas the males are single.
Reds are measured between the points of the second segment whereas packies are measured along the tail.
Bag limit: 3 (CRA2, Hauraki Gulf/Bay of Plenty), 6 (elsewhere)
Telson clipping required in CRA 2 (Hauraki Gulf/Bay of Plenty) and CRA 5 (Canterbury and Marlborough)
* Crays may only be gathered by hand ie you cannot shoot them.
* Females 'in berry' or with eggs under their tail may not be taken.
* Crays with a soft shell may not be taken.
Crayfish go blind when exposed to sunlight so measuring them on the boat is unacceptable. You should measure them as soon as you grab them and if they are undersize you should place them back under the rock you found them.
With the plummeting numbers of packhorse crays around conservation minded divers would limit themselves to reds.
HABITAT & FEEDING HABITS:
Crays live on rocky reefs with plenty of cracks and crevasses where they can hide. A nocturnal creature, they live in cracks and holes in large groups during the day and venture out to feed at night. Crays are a bottom feeding scavenger that live on shellfish, crabs, small fish or anything else they can find.
Generally you can find crays in less than 5m of water and you will often have to move the kelp to see into their holes.
Packhorse crays are found only in the North.
Crayfish can be a real challenge to find and to collect. You can rarely spot crays from the surface during the day and really need to get down into the weed and under overhangs to find them. A dive light is a real advantage when cray hunting and you will be surprised how many more crays you see with one.
Once you have found a cray don't rush straight in but have a good look around as crays are seldom found alone and it is usually the smallest crays that you see first. If necessary leave your gun at the entrance to the hole to go up and have a breath so you can follow your floatline straight back to the spot. Once you have decided which cray you want try to grab it by the base of its feelers or around it's back. There are all sorts of ideas about the best way to sneak up on crays but I have found the 'hard and fast method' most successful, particuarly when freediving. Cray holes often have a rear entrance so if the cray is beyond reach have a look around for another way in. If you do find a second entrance it is often possible for your buddy to scare the cray straight to you.
Cray hunting at night is a completely different sport as the crays are out just walking along the bottom. It is a very easy matter to shine your light in its eyes with one hand and simply reach down and grab it with the other.
Once you have landed the cray you need to store it somehow. The most common way is in a catchbag. These are vey convenient to use but do add a bit of drag when towed behind your float. The best way to store your crays while spearfishing is with a Craysnare attached to your float that securely holds your catch but presents practically no drag when not in use.
Crayfish are very easily damaged and have little chance of survival if you break legs or antennae off, so you should only try for a cray if you are sure it is legal. If you do take an illegal cray it must be placed back exactly where you found it. Crays sitting with their tails curled underneath them are most probably in berry and should be left alone. Crays who are nearly sitting out in the open and appear dopey are most probably soft-shelled and should be left alone as well.