Are Albany’s sand crabs the next big thing in WA seafood?

After years of persistent trial fishing off Albany’s south coast, local fisherman and Sand Crab pioneer Eric Tranthem has landed his ‘big one’ with popular WA-based restaurant chain Clancy’s Fish Pub, featuring his little-known Sand Crabs on its menu over coming months.

The local Sand Crab, or tow-nippers, as they are colloquially known have been a regular feature off Albany’s beaches but have not been widely recognised until now as a delicious eating crab with a high volume of meat per crab and a very sweet taste.

It was a conversation with WA Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) staff and WA seafood ambassador Don Hancey that first piqued Clancy’s attention for this tasty, but previously ignored crab species.

Clancy’s Fish Pub executive chef Ashley Ryan said when he looked into Sand Crabs he discovered the overwhelming similarities yet subtle differences between Albany Sand Crabs and the hugely popular and well-known blue swimmer crab.

“We trialled a few of the Sand Crabs in a variety of recipes and found them to be quite a surprise. They are a very fleshy crab, so there’s plenty of meat, but because of the cold salty water and pristine conditions in their local environment, they have a beautiful sweet taste as well, so there’s a lot you can do with them”.

“At Clancy’s we are always looking for something new and a little different and I can see these Sand Crabs becoming a very popular part of our menus over coming months. They may be the next big thing on a WA seafood platter”.

Watching Eric fish for his prized Sand Crabs is an art as he methodically works his boat along the coast in waters not much deeper than 30 metres and often in close proximity to the swell and surf , then unloading at Albany Fishing Boat Harbour before carefully packaging his catch for the drive to his processing partner in Perth.

“I went out with Eric one day to oversee his catching methods and processing. What an amazing experience. Watching this wily and seasoned fisherman working his pots and juggling the sea conditions showcased the passion and love he has for the sea and for developing new and sustainable produce,” Ashley said.

Eric Tranthem works his crab pots off the coast of Albany

The Sand Crab fishery is classified by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD Fisheries) as a ‘developmental fishery’ with Eric working with the department to determine if there is a sufficient and sustainable volume of Sand Crabs coupled with viable consumer demand.

WA Fishing Industry Council chief executive, Alex Ogg, said the Sand Crab fishery was very low impact, and has interesting potential for sustainable commercial development.

“There’s nothing high-tech about the Sand Crab fishery at the moment.  It’s simply a local fisherman and his boat, but early research does show there is potential for growth. It all depends on whether Eric can find that balance between sustainable supply, consumer demand and financial viability. “

“Eric has been working on this fishery for close to five years, there’s no doubt about the quality of his Sand Crabs and the interest from WA consumers as the Clancy’s product launch sold out a week before the event,” Alex said

The Sand Crab project is the first in a range of promotions WAFIC will be developing with its restaurant partners under the new Seafood WA brand, which will encourage greater consumer support for local seafoods as well as showcasing some of WA’s lesser-known species, such as Albany’s Sand Crabs.