The Lobster Man and the Leven header image

The Lobster Man and the Leven

In the northern rivers of Tasmania, there lives a rare creature, the largest of its kind on Earth

In the northern rivers of Tasmania, there lives a rare creature, the largest of its kind on Earth. The Giant Freshwater Crayfish grows to a metre long and has claws strong enough to crush the bones in a man’s arm. It’s an alien looking beast, covered in thick shiny black armour and for Todd Walsh, it’s one of his favourite things in the world.

The Giant Freshwater Crayfish is a type of Yabby and it's the biggest freshwater invertebrate on Earth.
The Giant Freshwater Crayfish is a type of Yabby and it's the biggest freshwater invertebrate on Earth. Here a moderately-sized individual is held by conservationist Todd Walsh. Photo, Simon Mustoe, Wildiaries

Todd Walsh was born here and grew up poaching them with his brother as a kid. In 1971, the Advocate published a photo of his grandfather holding up a specimen almost a metre long and weighing up to three and a half kilograms - maybe the biggest ever caught. 

Chris Walsh grimaces as he hands up the 8lb lobster his father (Mr Ken Walsh) landed from Flowerdale River. This would probably be the biggest lobster caught for several years, close to the maximum size for the species.
Chris Walsh grimaces as he hands up the 8lb lobster his father (Mr Ken Walsh) landed from Flowerdale River. This would probably be the biggest lobster caught for several years, close to the maximum size for the species. Picture from The Advocate, November 23, 1971.

When the crayfish was protected years ago, Todd turned gamekeeper, offering his skills to find and study them. Even today, he remains the only real expert, the “lobster man” they call him. Len Doherty from nearby Mountain Valley Retreat on the Leven River tells a story about some guests who went for a walk upriver on a rainy day.

“They came back all excited. They’d rounded a corner and there on the track in front of them was a huge crayfish reared up snapping its claws together”.

A Giant Freshwater Crayfish snaps its claws at Todd.
A Giant Freshwater Crayfish snaps its claws at Todd. Photo, Simon Mustoe, Wildiaries

The Giant Freshwater Crayfish, colloquially referred to as a ‘lobster’ by Todd, is a relic of a time when the environment of northern Tasmania was less polluted by mines and agriculture but they hang on well in the more forested mountains. They live in pristine creeks, surrounded by huge man ferns. It’s a fittingly prehistoric-looking habitat for an animal so strange, although when Todd was a kid, they’d find them right up the mouth of the river in Ulverstone.  

Protecting Todd’s lobsters is a matter of protecting creeks and rivers, the life blood of the local communities. They aren’t cuddly-looking like Giant Pandas and most Tasmanians have never heard of them let alone seen one. For Todd, a life without lobsters would mean losing one of his loves. For the rest of Tasmania, they are one of its most charismatic and symbolic animals. 

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