Spanner crab fishery management

Spanner crab (Ranina ranina) is a red crab named after the unique shape of their claws. They walk forwards and backwards, unlike other crabs that walk sideways. They are a longer lived species, estimated to hit sexual maturity at about 5 years of age and can live for about 15 years.

Males can grow to around 150mm and females to around 120mm. Spanner crabs are found along the east coast of Queensland and northern New South Wales, in depths of between 10m and 100m (they have also been found in northern Western Australia). They spend most of their time buried under sandy bottoms to hide from predators.

Commercial quantities of spanner crabs are only found in a small number of countries worldwide, including the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and Hawaii. There is a fishery in New South Wales, but the world’s largest commercial fishery is in Queensland.

The spanner crab fishery is concentrated in south-east Queensland waters, with over 99% of the harvest by commercial fishers.

Recreational and charter fishing accounts for relatively small catches in the fishery, and it is estimated that harvest by traditional fishers is likely to be even less.

Fishers target spanner crabs using a type of flat pot called a dilly. Dillies are baited and left on the bottom to attract the crabs. When the crabs try and crawl onto the dilly to reach the bait, their legs become entangled in the mesh of the net.

Commercial sector

The spanner crab fishery is considered to be sustainably managed and has a Wildlife Trade Operation approval from the Australian Government (under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999).

The commercial fishery is split into management areas A and B – the majority of commercial harvest is concentrated in managed area A (south-east Queensland waters), with very little harvest in managed area B (which covers waters from south-east Queensland around to the Gulf of Carpentaria).

To ensure the sustainability of spanner crabs, commercial fishers must comply with a range of rules, including:

  • licence requirements (limited entry fishery)
  • gear requirements
  • a closed season
  • no take of egg-bearing females
  • minimum legal size limit
  • daily catch limits
  • maximum dilly limits
  • satellite vessel tracking on all boats.

In managed area A, there are also restrictions on the amount that commercial fishers can harvest – each licensed commercial fisher is allocated a number of quota units (or shares), which is a percentage of the total allowable commercial catch for the fishery.

For information on commercial fishing rules, refer to the Fisheries (Commercial Fisheries) Regulation 2019.

Recreational and charter sectors

Recreational fishers and charter operators must comply with:

Traditional fishing sector

The traditional fishing rights of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders are protected under native title legislation and relate to harvest for domestic, communal and non-commercial purposes.

Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders desire more economic opportunities through fishing, particularly in their own sea country. Access through an Indigenous Fishing Permit (see section 54 of the Fisheries (General) Regulation 2019) is available on a case-by-case basis to provide opportunities for communities to take part in fishing-related business.

Harvest strategy

A harvest strategy specifies pre-determined management actions necessary to achieve the ecological, economic and social objectives of a fishery. It provides clarity about the overall fishery objectives, performance indicators, triggers for management actions, and appropriate management responses.

The Spanner crab fishery harvest strategy: 2020–2025 (PDF, 1.2MB) outlines the amount of catch that can be harvested in management area A, based on the performance of two indicators that indicate the health of the fishery – commercial catch per unit effort (commercial catch rates) and a fishery independent survey. Both of these indicators provide information about the abundance of spanner crabs in the fishery:

  • Commercial catch rates are provided through mandatory catch reporting logbooks and are standardised by fisheries data scientists to account for varying factors in catch (e.g. seasonality and different numbers of dillies used between operators) to provide a representative catch rate.
  • The annual fishery independent survey is undertaken in May each year by Fisheries Queensland and the commercial fishing industry. A number of historically productive regions are sampled to estimate crab abundance.

Latest management advice

The harvest strategy was used to assess the spanner crab fishery and set the total allowable catch for the 2020–21 and 2021–22 seasons. Management advice (PDF, 983.9KB) for the fishery will be updated annually.

Stakeholder engagement

The spanner crab working group is made up of representatives from research, conservation and industry sectors, and provides operational advice on the management of the fishery – read the latest working group communique.

More information