The bru­tal busi­ness of mud crab­bing

Cheap shots and stolen pots over the best mud crabs in Queens­land

The Observer - - NEWS - Camp­bell Gellie camp­bell.gellie@glad­sto­neob­

NOT many peo­ple go to work where they could get in a fight over their liveli­hood be­ing threat­ened but, ac­cord­ing to in­sid­ers, that has al­ways been a part of the Gladstone crab­bing in­dus­try and this sea­son is no dif­fer­ent.

The mud crabs in the Gladstone re­gion are the best in Queens­land and some lo­cal crab­bers aren’t afraid of fight­ing, steal­ing, threat­en­ing and ram­ming each oth­ers’ boats to catch them.

With no full time boat­ing and fish­eries pa­trol of­fi­cers in Gladstone now the crab­bers some­times have to re­sort to in­tim­i­da­tion to lay claim to the estuaries and wa­ter­ways where the crabs are.

The small com­mer­cial crab­bing com­mu­nity is awash with ru­mours, fin­ger point­ing and lit­tle trust over steal­ing of crabs, crab pots and cut­ting floats.

A Queens­land Boat­ing and Fish­eries Pa­trol spokesper­son said of­fi­cers based in Yep­poon and Her­vey Bay “con­duct tar­geted” ac­tiv­i­ties in Gladstone on a reg­u­lar ba­sis to catch il­le­gal crab­bing.

Since the start of the year three men have gone through Gladstone Mag­is­trates Court for break­ing the de­part­ment’s laws and an­other is cur­rently be­ing in­ves­ti­gated af­ter of­fi­cers caught him last week.

The Ob­server has spo­ken with crab­bers who said that man was just un­lucky be­cause the ‘fishos’ rarely caught peo­ple in the act of do­ing some­thing il­le­gal.

The Sa­muels --- pa­tri­arch Neville, son Nathan and son-in-law Sam Roberts --have crab­bing li­cences.

Neville has crabbed in Gladstone for 25 years, he got his son Nathan into it eight years ago and Sam seven years ago. They say the con­flict is worse this sea­son.

He ad­mit­ted phys­i­cal run-ins with other crab­bers in the past.

One in par­tic­u­lar was se­ri­ous enough to make him re­con­sider fight­ing an­other crab­ber ever again.

He said he felt there was still risk of crab­bers be­ing as­saulted by other crab­bers.

Since the of­fi­cial sea­son started on Novem­ber 5, Nathan says he has had 47 crab pots stolen; 27 of them went in one night.

And in that time, QBFP have only per­se­cuted nine peo­ple on all fishery laws in the Cen­tral Queens­land district from Her­vey Bay to Yep­poon.

“You get sick of it and have to watch over your own pots.”

Bob Appo has crabbed in Gladstone for 40 years and ad­mits he has been charged with steal­ing pots; he has also been to court for beat­ing up an­other crab­ber.

Now in his 60s he has mel­lowed, he says, but he is still aware he needs to hold firm his place in the lo­cal crab­bing in­dus­try.

Crab­bers still try to mus­cle into his Gra­hams Creek patch, he says.

“The other week a guy was drop­ping pots in Gra­hams Creek,” he said. “He told me he was only go­ing to be there for a week. I told him he wouldn’t be here for a week if he didn’t leave.”

Bob said the crab­ber left peace­fully.

No­body owns up to thiev­ing crab pots, both men say, but ev­ery­one knows it is hap­pen­ing.

Neville and Bob have had their dis­agree­ments over the years but they do agree the ‘fishos’ should be brought back to Gladstone.

The call has been backed by a for­mer Gladstone ‘fisho’.

He asked us not to name him but said there were once eight of­fi­cers pa­trolling th­ese wa­ters; that num­ber was re­duced down to four and now there are none.

“It’s ridicu­lous there is no fish­eries of­fi­cer in Gladstone,” he said. “It takes a lot of man power to get a con­vic­tion and with­out any­one, (the crab­bers) will get away with a lot.”

He said dur­ing the boom fishos had been un­able to af­ford rents and left.

“It’s like a bloom­ing maze up the Nar­rows,” he said. “It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to find them raid­ing other peo­ple’s pots. I can un­der­stand pro­fes­sional crab­bers get­ting up­set, it’s how they make a liv­ing.”

He said he would have worked for noth­ing back in the day. “I saved a lot of fe­male crabs over the years and I used to like throw­ing them back," he said.

As for the punches? Bob doesn’t think it’ll change.

“There will al­ways be fight­ing in the crab­bing game,” he said. “There is no hon­our amongst thieves. It’s in all fish­ing in­dus­tries.”

A fe­male mud crab, more com­monly known as a Jenny

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