Mud Crabs

"Mud crabs are a highly sought after crustacean in northern Australia."

These incredibly strong creatures with enormous claws inhabit mangrove areas around rivers, creeks and mudflats. They can be found from the Shark Bay area in WA, across the top end and down to northern NSW.


Fishing Apparatus

Crab traps and dillies are the legal apparatus with which to catch mud crabs in NT and QLD. Crab traps are either rectangular or circular framed nets, with between 1 and 4 openings in the top or sides which allows the crabs to enter the net. Dillies are circular nets with an open top. In NSW only Crab Traps with side openings are permitted and in WA only dillies are permitted.

Bait

Suitable bait to entice mud crabs include fish, fish frames and red meat. If you’re short on bait an alternative is tinned cat food. Simply make a few punctures in the can so the scent escapes and secure the tin with cable ties or rope inside your net.

Setting and Retrieving Traps

Set the crab traps in a mangrove infested waterway if you can, tie the ropes to nearby trees if land-based or use a float by boat and check every 20 minutes or so. Avoid traps being exposed by a receding tide by allowing enough depth and ensure the rope is long enough for the traps to reach the bottom.

When checking the crab traps never put your hand in the water when retrieving the rope. Use a steel hook or gaff to avoid a potential crocodile attack. Pull the traps in quickly and steadily and ensure you do not tip the trap and give the crabs a chance to escape.

Handling the Catch

When removing the mud crabs from the traps be very careful as these crabs have extremely powerful claws and could definitely cause you some pain. You’ll need to tip the trap and shake it to get the crab out. Once the crab is free, have a steel rod or strong stick ready to hold the crab down by pressing firmly on his back. Approaching the crab from behind is the best way. Alternatively tip the trap over an esky with ice in it as this numbs them and they go to sleep.

Take the crab by the back legs and you will be able to hold him without being in any danger. Mud crabs need to be checked and measured immediately so any undersized ones can be returned unharmed. Females carrying eggs must also be returned and keeping any females is totally prohibited in Queensland.

Identifying Sex

To identify the sex of a crab turn it over and check the triangular flap underneath. Females have a much broader based and rounder flap then the males do. The male flap is narrower and more like an isosceles triangle (pictures shown are Blue Swimmer Crabs, same shaped flaps). Mature females also have pigment marks on their flaps and smaller claws. So inspect your catch carefully and return all females in Queensland and inspect the flaps for eggs elsewhere. The eggs are bright orange in appearance and rather sponge-like.

blue-swimmer-crabs-male-backflap blue-swimmer-crabs-female-backflap

Measuring

After determining which crabs are potential keepers, take your measuring tape and measure horizontally across the widest part of the carapace (back shell).

Note measuring procedures differ in NSW, crabs are measured vertically from the notch central to the eyes at the front across to the centre of the rear of the carapace.

Size and Bag Limits

Take note that the size and bag limits differ from state to state. Heavy fines apply if caught possessing undersized crabs or more than the legal bag limit.

Size LimitBag LimitCrab Pot Limit
WA15cm green, 12cm brown5 per person10 per person or boat
NT14cm female, 13cm male10 per person5 per person, 10 per boat
QLD15cm across carapace10 per person4 per person
NSW8.5cm (front to rear)5 per person1 per person

Immobilising and Tying Up the Catch

Tying up sized mud crabs is a good way to immobilise their claws. You’ll need about 60cm of string for each crab. Place the crab on the ground and put your foot on the centre of his back to hold him down. It is easier with bare feet so you can judge the right amount of pressure required.

Place the string along the front of the crab and over his large claws. Then loop the string around and under his claws, pulling them in towards his body. Pull each end tightly and bring the ends over his shell to the back of his body where you then need to place the ends around his rear legs (from the outside inwards). Tie a nice tight knot to secure your crab in place. Once your crabs are successfully tied store them in a cool place to await cooking.

mud-crabs-foot-on-back mud-crab-tying-step-1

mud-crab-tying-step-2 mud-crab-tying-step-3

mud-crab-tying-step-4 mud-crab-tying-step-5

Cleaning and Cooking

When you’re ready to cook the catch boil a pot of salty water, either from the waterway you caught them in or just add your own to taste (1 tablespoon should do it). Once the water is boiling add as many crabs that fit in your pot and boil for approximately 8-10 minutes.

When the crabs have cooled enough to handle and remove the shell, pull the flap back on its belly and continue pulling around to remove the shell from the back of the crab to the front. Break the remaining body in half and remove the bodily fluids and organs then rinse the meat thoroughly.

Use a solid knife or nutcracker

to break the remaining shell as you eat or if you’re really tough you can just use your hands. Use the pincer from the claw to dig out meat from difficult areas. Enjoy your mudcrab plain or alternatively try Chilli Mud Crab or Mud Crab on Hot Coals. Each way is delicious for seafood lovers.

Popular Cooking Methods

Chilli Mud Crab

Ingredients

1 mud crab (double recipe for 2 crabs)

1 tin diced tomatoes

½ onion diced

2 cloves garlic chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce

2-3 red chillis chopped (depends how hot you like it)

1 dessert spoon brown sugar

1 cup water (add more for thinner consistency)

Method

Kill the crab quickly and humanely by punching a hole just above its eyes and push down hard. Clean the crab as directed above and then use a heavy knife to crack the claws and legs open.

Place olive oil, onion, garlic and chilli in the pot and sauté.

Add tinned tomatoes, sweet chilli sauce, brown sugar and water.

Mix ingredients together, bring sauce to a simmer on low-med heat and cook the crab in the sauce, semi-covered, for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mud Crab on Hot Coals

Kill the crab quickly and humanely by punching a hole just above its eyes and push down, using a screwdriver or similar.

Ensure your camp fire is hot and there are plenty of coals to cook over.

Place the mud crab upside down in a bucket of salt water from the waterway you caught it in. Leave for a few minutes so water seeps into the carapace. Carefully transfer the crab upside down over the hot coals and cook it in its own juices and salty water.

Cook for about 4 minutes upside down and turn over for a further 3 minutes.

Once the crab has cooled down enough to handle clean the crab as directed above.

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