MUD CRABS (2018)
Scylla spp., Scylla olivacea, Scylla serrata
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Two species of Mud Crabs are found in Australian waters: Giant Mud Crab and Orange Mud Crab. The stocks in WA, NT and QLD are sustainable and NSW stock is undefined.
Stock Status Overview
|Western Australia||Kimberley Developing Mud Crab Fishery||KDMCF||Sustainable||Catch, effort, catch rate|
- Kimberley Developing Mud Crab Fishery (WA)
Two species of Mud Crabs are found in Australian waters: Giant Mud Crab (Scylla serrata) and Orange Mud Crab (S. olivacea). The former constitutes more than 99 per cent of the commercial catch of Mud Crabs in the Northern Territory and Queensland, and the entire commercial catch in New South Wales. The species composition in the Kimberley Developing Mud Crab Fishery (Western Australia) is uncertain but is known to vary considerably between locations.
The life history and biology of Giant Mud Crab in the Northern Territory and Queensland are well documented [Alberts-Hubatsch H 2015, Heasman MP 1980, Hill BJ 1994, Hill et al. 1982, Hyland et al. 1984, Knuckey IA 1999] but, with some exceptions [Alberts-Hubatsch et al. 2014, Butcher PA 2004, Butcher et al. 2003], corresponding information from Western Australia and New South Wales is scarce. There are no published accounts on the biology of Orange Mud Crab in Australian waters. Hence, all catch, and biological information presented here refers to the Giant Mud Crab (S. serrata), unless otherwise stated.
Genetic evidence suggests that there are at least two biological stocks of Giant Mud Crab in Australian waters: one to the west and another to the south east of the Torres Strait [Gopurenko and Hughes 2002], referred to as the Northern Australian and East Coast biological stocks, respectively.
Female Giant Mud Crab in northern Australia migrate up to 95 km offshore to release their eggs [Hill BJ 1994], which average around 4.5 million per individual [Mann et al. 1999]. Coupled with a planktonic larval stage that can last for several weeks [Nurdiani and Zeng 2007], this may facilitate significant gene flow between areas (depending on local oceanography). However, there have been significant changes in the relative performance of some fisheries operating across these stocks since 2014, suggesting that, despite larval connectivity, there are different exploitation rates on components of the adult stock in different areas. These changes, combined with different management arrangements for each of the four jurisdictions that harvest Giant Mud Crab, and (in some cases) the need for more information on local population dynamics, and fine-scale stock structure, have resulted in this status report providing status determinations for Giant Mud Crab at the level of fishery management units: Kimberley Developing Mud Crab Fishery (Western Australia); Arafura-West Mud Crab Fishery (Northern Territory), Western Gulf of Carpentaria Mud Crab Fishery (Northern Territory); Gulf of Carpentaria (Queensland), East Coast (Queensland); and the Estuary General Fishery (New South Wales).
Kimberley Developing Mud Crab Fishery
The Kimberley Developing Mud Crab Fishery (Western Australia) (KDMCF) operates in a remote part of Western Australia and commercially harvests a varying mixture of Giant Mud Crab and Orange Mud Crab in relatively small quantities. Estimates of the harvest of Mud Crabs by recreational and Indigenous fishers in the Kimberley zone of the North Coast bioregion of Western Australia (the section of the tropical Western Australian coastline east of 120°00’ east) indicate that the non-commercial harvest is around two-thirds of the commercial catch. The catch is calculated from the estimated number of crabs kept, multiplied by a regional average weight of 0.67 kg per crab (across both species) [Henry and Lyle 2003, Ryan et al. 2017], a method employed in this assessment of individual management units.
Western Australia is the only Australian jurisdiction to impose separate minimum size limits for Giant Mud Crab (150 mm CW ) and Orange Mud Crab (120 mm CW ). Although size at maturity estimates are not available for either species within this state, studies of their reproductive biology in other places (the Northern Territory and Malaysia, respectively) suggest that the two size limits allow a large proportion of each species to reach sexual maturity before harvest. In the case of Giant Mud Crab, approximately 50 per cent of males and 98 per cent of females attain sexually maturity at a size of 150 mm CW [Knuckey IA 1999]. Reproductive development of the Orange Mud Crab begins at a much smaller size, with around 98 per cent of both sexes mature at 120 mm CW [Ikhwanuddin et al. 2011].
Commercial fishing activity in the KDMCF over the past decade has been sporadic, with annual effort ranging widely from around 300 to 30,000 pot-lifts. Confidentiality provisions preclude the disclosure of exact catch figures for 2017 as they are based on data from less than three operators but annual catches by the KDMCF have yet to exceed 20 tonnes (t). The average nominal catch rate for the period 2008–17 was 0.7 kg per pot-lift (range 0.4–1.0 kg per pot-lift), which is higher than the neighbouring Arafura-West Mud Crab Fishery in the Northern Territory (0.5 kg per pot-lift). The nominal catch rate in 2017 (1.0 kg per pot-lift) was 43 per cent above the 10 year average (0.7 kg per pot-lift) and double the draft harvest strategy threshold of 0.5 kg per pot-lift [Johnston et al. 2018]. The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired.
There are no estimates of the fishing mortality rate in the KDMCF. However, the small and sporadic commercial catch by the fishery is considered to have little impact on the resource, given the stable harvest rates. The above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired.
On the basis of the evidence provided above, the Kimberley Developing Mud Crab Fishery (Western Australia) management unit is classified as a sustainable stock.
Giant Mud Crab biology [Butcher et al. 2003, Grubert and Lee 2013, Heasman MP 1980, Jebreen et al. 2008, Knuckey IA 1999]
|Species||Longevity / Maximum Size||Maturity (50 per cent)|
|MUD CRABS||3–4 years, 230 mm CW, but rarely exceeds 200 mm CW in most areas||Varies by sex and location but generally 120–150 mm CW|
|Hook and Line|
|Coastal, Estuary and River Set Nets|
|Hook and Line|
|Coastal, Estuary and River Set Nets|
|Protection of berried females|
|Protection of berried females|
|21 in Charter, <3 in KDMCF|
- Tour Operator (WA)
- Kimberley Developing Mud Crab Fishery (WA)
|Charter||0.78 t in Charter|
|Indigenous||6 t (2000–01)|
|Recreational||2.5 t North Coast (2015–16)|
Western Australia – Indigenous (catch) The estimate of the Indigenous harvest tonnage of Mud Crabs in Western Australia has been revised down as the weight multiplier previously used to calculate this value (1.34 kg per crab) is now considered unrealistically high given that the average weight of harvested Mud Crabs in Western Australia was recently estimated at 0.65 kg.
Northern Territory — Charter (management methods) In the Northern Territory, charter operators are regulated through the same management methods as the recreational sector but are subject to additional limits on license and passenger numbers.
Northern Territory – Indigenous (management methods) The Fisheries Act 1988 (NT), specifies that “…without derogating from any other law in force in the Territory, nothing in a provision of this Act or an instrument of a judicial or administrative character made under it limits the right of Aboriginals who have traditionally used the resources of an area of land or water in a traditional manner from continuing to use those resources in that area in that manner”.
Queensland – Indigenous (management methods) Under the Fisheries Act 1994 (Qld), Indigenous fishers in Queensland are entitled to use prescribed traditional and non-commercial fishing apparatus in waters open to fishing. Size and possession limits, and seasonal closures do not apply to Indigenous fishers. Further exemptions to fishery regulations may be applied for through permits.
New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) (a) Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Interim Access Arrangement—allows an Indigenous fisher in New South Wales to take in excess of a recreational bag limit in certain circumstances; for example, if they are doing so to provide fish to other community members who cannot harvest for themselves; (b) The Aboriginal cultural fishing authority is the authority that Indigenous persons can apply to take catches outside the recreational limits under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), Section 37 (1d)(3)(9), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority; and (c) In cases where the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) applies fishing activity can be undertaken by the person holding native title in line with S.211 of that Act, which provides for fishing activities for the purpose of satisfying their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs. In managing the resource where native title has been formally recognised, the native title holders are engaged with to ensure their native title rights are respected and inform management of the State's fisheries resources.
Active Vessels The number of active exemption holders (for Western Australia), licences (for the Northern Territory and Queensland) or businesses (for New South Wales) are shown here because the number of active vessels is not an appropriate measure of effort in Australian Mud Crab fisheries. Licensing arrangements also vary significantly between jurisdictions.
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