There are many species and strains of yabbies in Australia, including Cherax albidus, the type farmed in Western Australia. Cherax albidus was first introduced to WA in 1932.
Unauthorised stocking of freshwater crayfish from interstate is now prohibited as it poses significant disease and environmental risks.
Since its introduction, the yabby has been spread from Esperance to the Hutt River, north of Geraldton, and into the Pilbara region. Unfortunately, in the past, yabbies have been mistakenly called ‘koonacs’, the common name of a small swamp crayfish that is native to WA. See the fact sheet on identifying freshwater crayfish species for more information.
WA’s unique freshwater ecosystems and native species need to be protected (particularly freshwater crayfish including marron) against exotic introduced species such as yabbies. However, yabbies are a valuable commercial export species for WA, providing income for farmers in wheatbelt areas.
To preserve the delicate balance of commerce and the environment, yabby farming is not permitted west of an ecological boundary (defined by the inland margin of State forest) which runs from Perth through the towns of Boddington, Marradong, Quindanning, Darkan, Durandin, Quindalup, Frankland, Rocky Gulf and Mount Barker as defined by the – see map. Yabbies may be farmed in all areas north of Perth.
Farmers do not need a licence to farm yabbies, provided they are the owner or occupier of the land and only sell to the holders of aquaculture, trapping or processing licences.
Movements of yabbies within the area where they can be farmed are regulated to allow for disease management.
Commercial yabby farming is not permitted in the green shaded area.
The border around this area is known as the ‘Yabby Line’.
Yabby farming in the State’s wheatbelt is very successful, with annual production of around 100 and 300 tonnes, depending on rainfall. Although the yield per unit area of water is relatively low, total production is significant because yabbies are easily harvested from dams using baited traps.
Yabbies are cold-blooded animals and their activity slows during winter, so few will enter baited traps. The supply of yabbies from dams is therefore largely confined to the warmer months of the year. Some farmers have constructed purpose-built ponds so they can continue to harvest yabbies throughout the winter months.
The cost of yabby farming is low because existing dams, built for stock watering, are used and yabby stocks are essentially self-reproducing, wild populations. This is the lowest and easiest level of aquaculture, with the muddy dam water hiding the yabbies from predators such as cormorants. With little day to day management required, costs are generally kept low.
Unsuccessful commercial attempts have been made to farm yabbies more intensively in purpose-built ponds (like marron), but costs and uncontrolled early breeding during grow-out were identified as obstacles to success. See Fisheries Research Report No. 112 – Enhancement of Commercial Yabby Production from Western Australian Farm Dams for more information.
One of the main advantages of yabbies is they can be exported alive, out of water and arrive in prime condition at high value markets in Europe and Asia. Internationally, the demand for freshwater crayfish is expected to continue to increase particularly as a result of a ‘crayfish plague’ disease that has killed many of Europe's native populations of freshwater crayfish. Australia is the only continent not infected by this disease. The current strict importation ban on freshwater crayfish should preserve this situation.
Despite the low production costs of farm dam harvesting, considerable costs are involved in purging, processing and packing the high-quality live yabbies that bring the best market price, particularly for export. Processors have established markets for yabbies larger than 30 g and pay farmers higher prices for larger animals.
A comprehensive book Yabby Farming: Frequently Asked Questions by Dr Craig Lawrence and Dr Noel Morrissy (published in 2000) is available. Contact the Pearling and Aquaculture Branch.
Information on yabbies and yabby farming is available to download:
Contact the WA Yabby Producers Growers Association.
We have an extensive library which includes publications on aquaculture.
T: (08) 9203 0120.
Requests for loan of publications from this library can be made through your local library.