Mud crabbers ‘fighting for survival’
QUEENSLAND mud crab - the "hero" of our food tourism trade - is under the crunch as tensions boil over in the state's $300 million seafood industry.
Some of the state's 2000 commercial fishermen plan to launch a legal injunction against the State Government over tough new quota limits, The Courier-Mail can exclusively reveal.
"This is our last stand,'' professional mud crabber Lionel Riesenweber, of Brisbane's Redland Bay, said.
His family company is one of the state's biggest licence holders and among more than 130 trawl, line and crab fishermen, with investments totalling more than $100 million, to join group actions against new reforms by fisheries.
"We are fighting for our survival. This is not a rehearsal. It shows how disgruntled so many of us are,'' the 42-year-old said.
"They've set quotas at the lowest of our low years. We estimate this will wipe out between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of family-run fishing operations across the board.''
Tourism identity and restaurateur Kevin "Mr Mud Crab" Collins, of Fish D'Vine at Airlie Beach, said the state's global reputation for seafood was in jeopardy.
"We are all gung-ho in China telling them to come and taste our fresh caught local mud crab,'' the Whitsundays chef said.
"It is our food tourism hero.
"But what happens when there is no guarantee of supply and it costs $150 for a crab? It'll be off the menu and we'll be off the China tourist radar."
Queensland, unlike the Northern Territory and New South Wales, does not allow the take of female crabs, and has a no-take rule on undersized crabs below 15cm, which fishermen suggest, means they only take 25 per cent of the biomass.
Fishos also point to brag boards like "Mudzilla" on Facebook where amateurs post pictures of the "pillage and "plunder" of fish and crabs stocks.
Mud crabs are sold wholesale by commercial operators for about $45-a-kilo and up to $85-a-kilo in the off season from October, making for a lucrative black market trade.
Ex-Fisheries biologist turned Cape York mud crabber Mat Vickers has already exited the industry because his quota went from 7 tonne to 380kg.
"Last year I turned over half a million dollars and employed two aboriginal families at Mapoon, this year it'll be zero,'' he said.
"It's broken my heart and done my head in.
"It's like telling a farmer who has 40 acres of tomatoes, he's only allowed to grow 300kg when he can easily grow 4 tonne."
Veteran crabber Mark Grunske, of Karumba, supports the new mud crab quotas because "it'd cut the industry from 400 to 140 licences".
"It'll bring stability to our industry, and will let the rest of us make a good living, the price might go up, but to say there'll be less crab is not true,'' he said.
In a legal letter to the Fisheries Department obtained by The Courier-Mail, lawyers for a group action of fishers reveal a Queens Counsel has been briefed to mount a legal challenge to the Sustainable Fisheries Strategy.
"Because of the very serious impacts that these proposals will have on our clients' operations, their livelihoods and their families," it said.
"As well as, of course, a great number of other people and other businesses dependant upon the viable operation of the industry, our clients have instructed us to consider their legal options.''