Spanner crabs are not new to me, but it has been some time since I had quality fresh spanner crab and I forgot how GOOD it is. There is nothing quite like a spanner crab, live, straight from the boat and into the boiling water. Sensational! And before I get any hate mail, I numbed him to sleep ethically by euthanizing him in the freezer first…

Ranina ranina, or otherwise known as Spanner Crabs – they are odd little creatures. Named so because their spanner-like claws prove quite effective in prising open the shells of scallops, oysters, molluscs and other crustaceans. A diet, which might account for some of their own sweet succulence.

While not exclusive to this region, the catch of Fraser Isles Spanner Crabs is from the sandy coastline of Fraser Island in depths of water between 20-100 metres where they lie buried in sand, in wake of passing delectable prey.

Spanner crabs are caught in crab pots that are lowered to the seafloor, waiting for the crabs to make their visitation. So the harvest is a friendly one, with minimal impact on the environment, there is also no waste in the way of by-catch. So that is always a plus.

Spanner crabs are slower growers. Research suggests spanner crabs are quite long-lived for marine crustaceans with the biggest crabs living up to 10 years and beyond. Spanner crabs are thought to reach legal size at around 3 years +. The fishery also ceases to operate during spawning season, which is usually from November to December. This ensures that there will be future stocks and they also have to adhere to a quota system to avoid overfishing.

Jason Simpson fell into the world of spanner crabs by accident. Involved in the industry through Fishtales, his sales and marketing business, Jason was gradually lured in by a client, Les Apps. Les began the business in 2008 as Aussie Red Crabs. It evolved from there – Jason became Les’ business partner 4 years ago and the Fraser Isle Spanner Crabs was born. Jason now handles the day-to-day operations while Les remains in the background operating as what Jason calls the ‘brains of marine operations’, which he says he couldn’t do without him. Fraser Isle Spanner Crabs has since become Jason’s passion – watching the crabs being unloaded, it is not hard to understand why – there is a pull in providing such a sensational product, that I can well understand the passion.

Operating out of Mooloolaba, their quota is 530 tonnes – that is a lot of crabs – but a sustainable amount. Great care is taken that the precious cargo is not over-fished. With crabbing, this means you have to take the highs with the lows, so while some catches are huge, others can be quite small depending on the weather, tides, moon phase and possibly a myriad other reasons as well. Fishing is never predictable, which is why Jason sticks to a fleet of smaller boats – six company vessels and six privately contracted vessels – to ensure that the catch is a viable one.

Once back at the port, they are sorted by hand in the packing room, and then placed into condition controlled tanks until they are either ready to be forwarded on live, or they are processed within their own facility, where the painstaking process of extracting the meat is done.

I am not sure what their secret is, but after witnessing my own attempts at meat extraction, I can assure you this is a labour intensive process. While the rewards are amply worth it and the process was somewhat cathartic, I doubt that Jason will be employing my skills in the art of crabmeat extraction any time soon.

This is where it gets good with Fraser Isle Spanner Crabs, as while you can purchase the crabs live and whole – why would you? You can purchase packages of crab meat that have been packed for you, raw and cooked, fresh or frozen.

I am always sceptical, as I always believe there is some compromise when you are purchasing product such as this where someone else has done the hard work. But I was pleasantly surprised. The fresh cooked crabmeat is sensational. There is no compromise. The quality is superb. The taste is sublime and sweet. There is no loss of quality. And the bonus is I didn’t have to shower before dinner because I had crab juice sprayed half up my arms and pretty much a one-meter radius of where I was standing while I was picking the meat. I am sure I would improve with time… Jason says we all have to start somewhere, and that he could train me up, but with these pre-packaged packs, I don’t need to. Happy days.

In all seriousness, it is the attention to detail, and consistency of quality that is the product of Jason’s passion and commitment to supply a superior product to not only chefs, but also made more readily available to home cooks, and in general, lovers of seafood.

I’m in!

Fraser Isle Spanner Crabs is available from a select few quality fresh seafood stores – Fisheries on the Spit – Mooloolaba, Point Cartwright Seafood, Caloundra Seafood, Noosa Fish Providores and Noosa Junction Seafood. However, if you are after large quantities or wholesale orders you can contact Fraser Isle Spanner Crabs direct.

And if you need any recipe ideas, visit their website…

This story was written by Petra Hughes – Pebbles + Pomegranate Seeds