Crab catch claws back for first time since 2007 fish kill

FOR the first time in almost eight years, Northern Rivers mud crab fishermen say their haul has clawed its way back to decent numbers after the 2007 fish-kill saw the catch plummet.

Ballina general estuary fisherman Dallas Johnson, who catches prawns, fish and mud crabs, said the lack of significant flooding had resulted in healthy numbers of mud crabs being caught.

"It's been really good compared to the last few years because the fish-kill knocked everything over," he said.

"It's pretty much coming back to what it should be."


Despite the bumper season, both Mr Johnson and Ballina Fishermen's Co-op general manager Phil Hilliard said mud crab theft was still a big issue.

BETTER CATCH: Mud crab fisherman Dallas Johnson is happy to have had the best crab haul in years.
BETTER CATCH: Mud crab fisherman Dallas Johnson is happy to have had the best crab haul in years. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Mr Hilliard said there were major negative flow-on effects for both commercial fishermen and licensed seafood outlets.

"Commercial fishermen pay a large fee to be entitled to catch (mud crab)," he said.

"They have to catch product to pay those fees.


"If people keep taking the product they've still got the fees. It's a big problem and it affects people's livelihood."

Mr Johnson said the theft of mud crabs was no different to people steeling from retail stores.

"Fishing inspectors will say if you get half the crabs that go into your traps you'd be pretty lucky," he said.

"School holidays can be bad because everybody just goes 'I just wanted to see what was in it, we only took one crab'… and then 45 people do that and you're left with very little."

Mr Johnson said he would encourage anyone interested in catching mud crabs to purchase their own gear.

"It's easy, just go down to the bait shop, buy some crab traps, put them in the water, stay with them, go home with them, everyone's happy."

He said business owners and residents should also be wary of people door-knocking to sell mud crabs.

"Anybody that has got somebody knocking on their door, or their place of business, asking would you like to buy some crabs, they're probably buying them off an unlicensed person," he said.

"I have to pay for a food-safety certificate every year to say that I know how to handle the seafood safety, but these people that are doing the wrong thing, they don't have that documentation, they could be doing anything."

Chilli mud crab


  • 2 x 1kg live mud crabs
  • 140g (1/2 cup) tomato sauce
  • 55g (1/4 cup) white sugar
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp tamarind concentrate
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) Chinese rice wine (shaoxing)
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 long red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • Lemon wedges, for finger bowls


Place the crabs in the freezer for about 1 hour to put them to 'sleep'.

To clean the crabs, lift the flap on the underside and pull off the top shell. Remove and discard the grey, spongy, finger-like gills. Rinse the crabs quickly under cold water to get rid of any gunk.

Use a heavy knife or cleaver to cut each crab in half lengthwise, then cut each half into thirds. Use the back of the knife to crack the claws and legs to let the sauce seep in while they cook.

Place the tomato sauce, sugar, fish sauce, tamarind, rice wine and 60ml (1/4 cup) water in a bowl. Stir to combine.

Heat the oil in a large wok over high heat. Add the garlic and chilli, and fry for about 30 seconds. Add the crab pieces and give everything a bit of a mix. Add the tomato sauce mixture and toss the crabs around to coat them well. Cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove lid and shake crabs around, then replace lid and cook for another 5 minutes or until the shells turn orange and the meat is cooked through.

Pile the crabs and sauce into a large serving bowl and scatter over the coriander. Serve with lots of napkins and small bowls of water with lemon wedges to clean sticky fingers.

Recipe by Marion Grasby in MasterChef, July 2011, on


Crab, lemon and herb linguine


  • 375g dried linguine pasta
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 long red chilli, thinly sliced
  • 227g tub fresh crab meat (see note)
  • 1/2 cup Philadelphia 30% less fat cream for cooking
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Lemon wedges, to serve


Cook pasta in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, following packet directions, until tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add garlic and chilli. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add crab, cooking liquid and cream. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until heated through. Add pasta, lemon juice, basil and parsley. Season. Toss to coat. Serve with lemon.

Recipe from Liz Macri, Super Food Ideas October 2012, on

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