Alex's Column 11/2/21

I was definitely caught by surprise when I received a media release yesterday from AFANT CEO, David Ciaravolo, calling for urgent action to stop commercial crabbing in Shoal Bay.

I was under the misunderstanding that commercial crabbing was already banned in the bay, but it’s only in the Howard River and the creeks that no commercial crab pots are allowed.

This has come to light following the commencement of a commercial crabbing operation in Shoal Bay this week.

I spoke to David who said: “This is the first time commercial crabbing has occurred in Shoal Bay since 2014 and is a major cause of concern for the Darwin recreational fishing community, as well as the many retail and service businesses that rely on recreational fishing activity.”

I understand Shoal Bay accounts for 45% of all crabs caught by recreational crabbers, which is an astonishing figure and indicates just how valuable the resource is.

David rightly explained: “Very rarely do we see such a cut-and-dried requirement for a fishery resource reallocation.

“We wrote to Agribusiness and Aquaculture Minister, Nicole Madison, seeking urgent action to stop commercial crabbing in Shoal Bay.

“I mean really – 45% of our crabs – that’s insane.

“It’s a big issue and I can’t help but feel that the Minister must make a prompt decision.

The Territory-wide recreational take of mud crabs has historically been estimated at only 6%, whereas the commercial sector accounts for 88% of the mud crab harvest, with the remainder taken by Aboriginal traditional harvest (5%) and fishing tour operators (1%),” David explained.

There are 49 commercial crabbing licences in the NT, and each one can run up to 60 pots and take as many legal-sized crabs as they are able to catch.

David said: “The only other significant area that is closed to commercial crabbing is Darwin Harbour, and Shoal Bay needs to be closed for the same reasons: it’s right on the doorstep of Darwin’s northern suburbs, and 45% of the total recreational catch comes from Shoal Bay.”

In the lead up to the 2020 NT election, amongst other issues, AFANT asked all parties to commit to formally allocating Shoal Bay mud crabbing to the recreational and fishing tourism sectors. Both the Labor Government and the CLP Opposition agreed to this request.

“I can understand the convenience factor of crabbing commercially in Shoal Bay, but pots could even be set close to the boat ramp… that’s just ridiculous,” David said.

“Other commercial crabbers have said to me they wouldn’t fish there as it would cause so much conflict.

“We’ve written to the Minister and received an acknowledgement response, but we need urgent action now,” the AFANT CEO said.

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Old mate Andy Ralph has given me the lowdown on what’s happening out Kakadu way.

“Kakadu’s creeks and culverts have been pumping for weeks and, while floodwater is roaring out of Magela and Nourlangie Creeks into the Alligator Rivers, there’s also been action aplenty at the lower reaches of the South Alligator.

“Long time Kakadu resident, Andy Lehmann, recently took Bill Povey for a run down to the mouth of the South and, after failing to raise a scale up Brook Creek, they ventured across the river to some rocks near Mud Island and hooked into not only thumping snapper, but also some nice big coastal Barra nudging the metre mark.

“Magela Creek is 1.4m and dropping fast, so it won’t be long before fishos sneak through the crossing on the Oenpelli Road and give the East Alligator River a crack at what could turn out to be a nice little mini-runoff during this monsoon break.

“But take care not only fording flooded rivers, but also fishing land based… there’s already been a fisherman seen standing waist deep in Magela Creek and big saltwater crocodiles are ever present.

“In fact, Park Rangers have trapped two Crocs over 4m just upstream in the last week,” Andy reported.

Bill Povey and Andy Lehmann caught with Bill’s terrific 94cm South Alligator River barra.


Sean Fagan gets the thumbs up from Levi Higgins after landing this thumping South Alligator barra.