Australia’s crystal crab is one of the most sought-after crustaceans in the world, fetching more than $300 per crab.
- The crystal crab is found 80km off the coast of Western Australia
- 90 per cent of the catch is exported to China
- The product can fetch prices as high as $300 per crab
The crabs are found in a thin trench of water, 80 kilometres off the Western Australia coast, at depths of 800 metres.
West Coast Deep Sea Fishery takes to the pristine deep waters all year round in search of the product.
Managing director Glen Bosman said he believed he had the best crystal crabs in the world.
“Not arguably, it’s fact. We receive the highest price for that species of crab,” he said.
The price tag
The crystal crab is pale white in colour, with distinctly shorter walking legs, and can weigh more than two kilograms.
That is more than four times the average size of a blue swimmer crab.
Mr Bosman said the product was transported in live tanks into top-end Chinese restaurants, as well as the east coast of Australia for a premium price.
“Our crab is primarily sold, more than 95 per cent, into the Chinese markets and it’s used effectively as a banquet,” he said.
“The crab sits in the middle of the table, is broken up, and then shared by a number or people because of its size.
“In the market here, a 2kg crab on the table would go for well over $300 and in China it’s likely to be even more.”
Because the crab is caught all year round, continuity of supply is guaranteed.
It is also considered so exclusive and expensive that it has been immune to the impact of coronavirus.
Mr Bosman said his market had remained “fairly” unaffected to date.
“Our product comes in and is usually gone within two to three days, and we would fish once a week,” he said.
“The demand remained relatively stable; it was more associated with getting air-freight into the markets that became the issue.
“There was probably a 10 per cent reduction in price, our export quantities slightly reduced but the demand stayed the same.”
The crystal crab trade is a difficult market to enter. There are only seven fishing permits in Australia, four of them are in WA, with most licences having been held by parties for more than 30 years.
Owning four boats, Mr Bosman said it was also a costly business.
“No-one is particularly keen to sell their licence because it is a proven fishery, and because it’s quota we can arrange our operational and financial needs to meet that with a reasonable return.
“It’s very hard to get into that fishery, not impossible, but hard.”
As of this year, 10 of Western Australia’s state-based fisheries meet the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) requirements, which is significantly higher than the global average for regional representation.
They account for almost 90 per cent of the wild catch value in the state’s commercial fisheries.
And the West Coast Deep Sea Fishery is one of the original contributing members.
Mr Bosman said the impetus for MSC certification was maintaining a high global standard.
“The government primarily drove it at the start in terms of making $14 million available to help fund the original certification for fisheries,” he said.
“That took the cost factor out. Secondly, as an exporter of seafood product and a member of the World Trade Organisation, you have to show that it is a sustainable product that you are sending overseas.
“It also works as an insurance, that if there was a perceived environmental threat with the fishery by parties not involved, then we have some substance to say: ‘This is an objective, independent assessment that we have, that ensures we are meeting the best practices for a sustainable fishery throughout the world’.”
CSIRO senior research scientist Ingrid van Putten said WA fisheries led the global charge.
“Western Australia has been at the forefront of doing this stuff for a long time,” Dr van Putten said.
“They have had many world firsts, including the abalone and the WA rock lobster. They are really leading the charge in terms of certification of their fisheries.
“They are world leaders.”