Fishnote Tie Me Muddie Up Tight Sport

No. 14
October 2005
ISSN No: 1035-008X
Tie Me Muddie Up Tight
How to handle, tie and store mud crabs
I. Knuckey*, C. Calogeras* and M. Phelan, Fisheries Group, Darwin
* Formerly Fisheries Group
Many people think mud crabs (Scylla serrata) have the sweetest meat in the world, but they
have also evolved some of the meanest defence mechanisms in order to protect it. Their sharp
spines and large claws are dangerous and can easily curtail your career as a violin virtuoso. So
what do you do when you pull up a pot full of mud crabs? This Fishnote explains how to handle,
tie, store and look after your mud crab catch.
Once the rap is on board, it is best to open it and let the crabs leave of their own accord. If they
are reluctant to leave, the trap can be tilted and shaken, quite vigorously if necessary – it will not
usually damage the crabs. Once out, you can simply place the mud crabs in an esky (you
should always have one of these handy) with a few mangrove leaves around them, but the
preferred method is to tie them.
Figure 1. Mud crab showing safest zone and other features mentioned in the Fishnote
Once the crab is out of the pot, is it important to get it under control as soon as possible. A wire
hook or a piece of wood may help in this respect. Prolonged handling aggravates the crab and
heightens the chance of injury to the crab, or yourself. If during this process the crab grabs hold
of any object (other than your finger) let the crab go, or it will drop its claw.
Crabs drop their claws as a defence mechanism so they can leave their attacker in pain and
make a quick escape. Beware of small crabs and jennies (female crabs) they move like lightning
and have the sharpest spines and claws.
Rule number one – always hold a mud crab from behind. The back of the shell is the only safe
place to handle an untied mud crab (see Figure 1). Take care to not place your fingers under
the crab because its claws can reach underneath and nip you. The best way to hold a crab is
with the index finger on top of the shell in front of the swimming legs and around the base (see
Figure 2).
Figure 2. Recommended way to hold an untied mud crab
To tie a mud crab you need an uncluttered flat surface, a length of string (60-80 cm), at least
one bare foot, and a touch of courage. Place your bare foot firmly on the back of the crab and
get a good grip with your toes (shoes make it difficult to judge the correct pressure and you’ll
need your toes later to help in tying). You are now free to use both hands to tie the crab.
Figure 3 shows one of the easiest ways for a beginner to tie a mud crab. Firstly check that your
mud crabs are of a legal size and that you are not exceeding the possession limit.
With a bit of practice, you may one day beat the record of three crabs tied in under 22 seconds,
set at the annual mud crab tying competition in Darwin. Good luck.
The worst thing that can happen is that you get savaged by the crab. Often in this situation the
crab will drop it’s claw. Do not just pull the claw off, as this will rip sinews, tear flesh and bring
tears to your eyes. The best way is to use a pair of pliers or anything available to break the
pincer. The claw can then be removed. Also beware of the many spines on mud crabs as they
are very sharp. Because cuts can become easily infected, especially in tropical waters, ensure
you take care of the wound.
It is best to keep mud crabs alive until they are ready to be cooked. The best way to do this is to
wrap them in a drained container (this will also keep flies off the crabs). Keep them moist in a
cool, shady place, out of direct sunlight and wind. If mud crabs do not dry out they can be kept
alive for many days.
It is best to kill your mud crab before cooking as this reduces the chance of it dropping limbs
and is also thought to be more humane. To achieve this place the mud crab in a freezer for half
an hour or spike the crab in the mid chest region, just above the end of the flap.
To cook whole mud crabs, bring water to boil in a large container and add the crab; cooking for
about 8 minutes per kilogram. A similar time is required for steaming.
A traditional Territory method of cooking muddies is to simply place the crab upside-down on
the coals for a few minutes and then turn it over for the same time.
If you are going to freeze mud crabs, they keep better if they are cooked first.
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Published: Tuesday 4 October 2005.
1. Cut your string to about 60-80 cm
in length. Hold the string with your
hands 20 cm apart, either side of
the centre. Place your foot on the
shell of the mud crab and from
above and behind the crab, lay the
string in front of the shell and over
the base of the claws.
2. Move your hands to the end of the
string and draw the string back,
loop it under the base of the claws
and out to the front of the crab.
3. Loop the string back over the base
of the pincer, in front of the spines
and firmly draw the claw against
the shell. You will find it easier to
do one claw at a time.
4. Bring both ends of the string back
over the shell. Take one end down
in front of a swimming leg and by
lifting your heel continue the string
underneath the other swimming
leg and then up in front of it onto
the shell of the mud crab.
5. Pull the ends of string as tight as
possible, ensuring the claws are
hard up against the shell. Tie a
knot on top of the shell of the crab
using your big toe to hold the knot
tight while you finish it off.
Figure 3. How to tie a mud crab
While all care has been taken to ensure that information contained in this Fishnote is true and correct at the
time of publication, the Northern Territory of Australia gives no warranty or assurance, and makes no
representation as to the accuracy of any information or advice contained in this publication, or that it is
suitable for your intended use. No serious, business or investment decisions should be made in reliance on
this information without obtaining independent/or professional advice in relation to your particular situation.