Clarence River crab fishermen Bill Clarke, Troy Billin and Gavin Shanklin.
Clarence River crab fishermen Bill Clarke, Troy Billin and Gavin Shanklin.

Crabbers eye fertile grounds in support of trapping rule changes

MEMBERS of the Lower Clarence crabbing community have come out in support trapping further up the Clarence River.

Last week recreational fishers were up in arms over a DPI proposal to crab trapping up river from the boat ramp opposite the Maclean courthouse but local crabbers have sought to quell fears over the change.

Commercial crab fisher Troy Billin said the idea that there would be a sudden proliferation of traps on the river was wrong because the number of endorsements which dictated trap numbers was not changing.

Mr Billin said despite being on one of the largest rivers on the east coast, they had one of the smallest areas to work and the result was crabbers working over the top of one another.

“It would not affect the numbers of traps and they would be spread out along a larger area,” he said.

“We can only catch so much and only use so much gear. No other areas have these ridiculous closure lines that we have got here in the Clarence.”

The rule change was brought front and centre last week as the Shooters Farmers and Fishers MLC Mark Banasiak took aim at the proposal and accused the Department of Primary Industries of not properly consulting recreational fishers.

Since then, the Lawrence Fishing Club has met with Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis to discuss the change and have raised similar issues with the way the change had been “sprung” recreational fishers with little information.

“There has been no consultation with us or any other group on the river that I know of, certainly not with a recreational fishing association,” he said.

“There has been no study as far as we know as to the crab population in the river or estimates as to what this might do to the crab population.

“One way or another there are a lot of concern and nobody is saying anything.”

Clarence River crab fisherman Troy Billin.
Clarence River crab fisherman Troy Billin.

However, Mr Billin said there were some misconceptions about the life cycle of mud crabs, which rarely bred in the river, and saying the change would allow him to take crabs at the end of their life cycle.

Mud crabs breed in warmer waters and their larvae is carried by currents south into the mouth of the Clarence River, as the crabs age they slowly move upstream with their whereabouts fluctuating with salinity levels affected by rainfall.

Mr Billin said this meant crabbers were being forced to take younger and smaller crabs amounting to anywhere from 1500 to 1800 crabs per tonne. By moving up river at certain times of the year that could drop to 800-1000 per tonne.

“At the moment we believe we are not harvesting them at the right end of their life cycle. We would love to harvest them at the end of their life cycle instead of the start,” he said.

“So for us to work up there we would be taking less crabs, which would mean more crabs for everyone.”

“If this was bad for the stocks we would not be for it because we rely on the crabs for our income day in day out, year in year out.”