The more people you ask about the species in Western Australia’s South West, the more people you find who are, in one way or another, deeply connected to marron.
“They are a fantastic species,” says Dr Steven Beatty from Murdoch University’s Freshwater Fish Group and Fish Health Unit.
Don Watts, a farmer in the green hills of eastern Harvey, is similarly effusive.
“It’s very unique to this area,” he says.
Both smooth-backed and sharp-clawed, the species is endemic to the diverse South West WA region, and occupies a prominent position in its historical narrative.
As its popularity has grown over time though, so too have the threats to its existence. Local enthusiasm for the crayfish has grown to such a point that significant restrictions have been placed on fishing for marron.
“We have to be careful that we don’t fish marron out in certain spots,” says Dr Beatty.
“The Department of Fisheries have undertaken quite a lot of changes to the recreational fishery, to help ensure its long-term sustainability for future generations.”
Recreational fishing of marron can only be conducted with a license, and only then during a month-long period in January. It must also be performed using specific equipment that severely limits the size of a catch.
“In the Harvey Dam and Harvey River, you can only catch marron using a snare, which is much more difficult,” says Don Watts.
“You only catch an individual marron, rather than using a net or any other method.”
Murdoch University’s Dr Beatty believes this has proved effective, but bigger threats are still posed to the species.
“A long-term threat for marron is reductions in river flow from our drying climate in the South West. The more water and habitat you have as a juvenile marron, the more chance you have of surviving,” says Dr Beatty.
“What they really like is fresh, running water that is really well oxygenated. They do really well in areas that have good, intact riparian vegetation as well, so in places like national parks and state forests where clearing hasn’t occurred to the water’s edge.”
The increased presence of agricultural enterprises in the South West is also viewed as a contributing factor in marron population decreases, as chemical and effluent run-off have degraded the species’ habitat. Yet both Dr Beatty and Don Watts agree that the farming community is taking on a more concerted effort to ensure this no longer occurs.
“People are taking much more care as to what goes into the rivers. That’s making a big difference,” says Mr Watts.
“Farmers have been really good at protecting and fencing any remnant vegetation they have along rivers,” says Dr Beatty.
“It’s such an iconic fishery, I think we have to do everything we can to make it a real trophy fishery.”
“Marron to Aboriginal people has always been a major food source,” says Josh Whiteland, a man with a deeper knowledge of South West WA than most.
The species is inextricably linked with indigenous culture in the region, and has been sustainably consumed by Aboriginal people for generations. Under traditional seasonal gathering laws, Aboriginal people can source the crayfish throughout the year, but only choose to do so during environmentally appropriate times and conditions.
“Marron are a big part of traditional foods for local people, it’s just that a lot of our traditional hunting grounds have been taken,” says Mr Whiteland.
“Aboriginal people never hunted marron when they were carrying the eggs, and they always put the females back, so there was always that environmental farming aspect of that particular food source.”
Mr Whiteland, who runs cultural tours teaching others about Aboriginal cultural and traditions, says marron would traditionally be hunted using snares made from reeds. He has long observed the positive, albeit somewhat peculiar contribution the species makes to its own environment.
“Marron will eat anything. They will eat a kangaroo if it falls in the water. I’ve seen a marron eat cabbage. It doesn’t really matter what food it is. Marron are scavengers; most delicacies are,” he says.
“They will sit there at the bottom of the river and eat whatever’s available, but most of the time, what they are doing is cleaning up their own environment.”
He says the damming that has occurred across South West WA region has negatively impacted the species, and maintains that fresh river marron is unrivalled for consumption.
“If you have ever tasted a river marron compared to a dam marron, there is a huge, distinct flavour [difference] between the two. A river marron has solid flesh and it’s not mushy, whereas a dam marron has a muddier flavour,” he says.
“Even today, marron cooked traditionally is still my favourite way. Thrown on the hot coals and roasted, with a little bit of sea salt, maybe some bush onion and saltbush.
“Aboriginal people were some of the first environmental farmers, so there was that education right from the beginning about looking after your food sources.”