Funding for new research into Gulf mud and blue swimmer crabs

News release | 22-Mar-2018

Queensland and Northern Territory scientists will investigate the role of environmental factors on fluctuating crab numbers in the Gulf of Carpentaria in a new $161,000 research project funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries biologist, Dr Julie Robins said it was hoped the research would help to inform future harvest strategies for crab fisheries in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

“This project is in response to reduced catches of mud crabs in the Gulf following successive years of poor wet seasons, although catches did improve in 2017,” Dr Robins said.

“Current evidence is that the biomass of many crab fisheries varies as a result of environmental factors such as floods, drought, temperature and habitat changes such as mangrove dieback or fluctuations to seagrass.

“We need to better understand the importance of environmental factors compared to fishing pressure on the abundance of crabs and fishery catches, to better assess fishing pressures and the management of the crab populations.”

Dr Robins said mud crabs and blue swimmer crabs support valuable commercial, recreational and Indigenous fisheries in northern Australia.

“The 2016 Status of Australian Fish Stocks Report classified mud crabs in the Northern Territory’s western Gulf of Carpentaria as ‘transitional-depleting’ and noted declining catch rates in some of Queensland’s crab fisheries”,” she said.

“Fisheries Queensland is currently developing a harvest strategy for the crab fishery, while the Northern Territory released its harvest strategy for the mud crab fishery in late 2017.

“We hope this research project will provide a better understanding of how environmentally-driven changes in crab abundance might be factored into these harvest strategies.”

The researchers will analyse commercial catch and effort data in Gulf of Carpentaria waters and test if there is any relationship with environmental data such as river flow, water temperature and wind.

Dr Robins said while the project will draw on existing and current research, the researchers would also like to hear from crab fishers.

“We’re particularly interested to hear what factors fishers’ think influence catches of mud crabs in the Gulf of Carpentaria,” she said.

Fishers interested in participating in the research can contact Dr Julie Robins by email at julie.robins@daf.qld.gov.au.

Media contact: Dianne Bye, 3087 8577