LISTEN: The brutal business of crabbing in Gladstone
NOT many people go to work where they could get in a fight over their livelihood being threatened but, according to insiders, that has always been a part of the Gladstone crabbing industry and this season is no different.
The mud crabs in the Gladstone region are the best in Queensland and some local crabbers aren't afraid of fighting, stealing, threatening and ramming each others' boats to catch them.
With no full-time boating and fisheries patrol officers in Gladstone now the crabbers sometimes have to resort to intimidation to lay claim to the estuaries and waterways where the crabs are.
The small commercial crabbing community is awash with rumours, finger pointing and little trust over stealing of crabs, crab pots and cutting floats.
A Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol spokesperson said officers based in Yeppoon and Hervey Bay "conduct targeted" activities in Gladstone on a regular basis to catch illegal crabbing.
Since the start of the year three men have gone through Gladstone Magistrates Court for breaking the department's laws and another is currently being investigated after officers caught him last week.
The Observer has spoken with crabbers who said that man was just unlucky because the 'fishos' rarely caught people in the act of doing something illegal.
The Samuels --- patriarch Neville, son Nathan and son-in-law Sam Roberts --- have crabbing licences.
Neville has crabbed in Gladstone for 25 years, he got his son Nathan into it eight years ago and Sam seven years ago. They say the conflict is worse this season.
He admitted physical run-ins with other crabbers in the past.
One, in particular, was serious enough to make him reconsider fighting another crabber ever again.
He said he felt there was still risk of crabbers being assaulted by other crabbers.
Since the official season started on November 5, Nathan says he has had 47 crab pots stolen; 27 of them went in one night.
And in that time, QBFP have only persecuted nine people on all fishery laws in the Central Queensland district from Hervey Bay to Yeppoon.
"You get sick of it and have to watch over your own pots."
Bob Appo has crabbed in Gladstone for 40 years and admits he has been charged with stealing pots; he has also been to court for beating up another crabber.
Now in his 60s he has mellowed, he says, but he is still aware he needs to hold firm his place in the local crabbing industry.
Crabbers still try to muscle into his Grahams Creek patch, he says.
"The other week a guy was dropping pots in Grahams Creek," he said. "He told me he was only going to be there for a week. I told him he wouldn't be here for a week if he didn't leave."
Bob said the crabber left peacefully.
Nobody owns up to thieving crab pots, both men say, but everyone knows it is happening.
Neville and Bob have had their disagreements over the years but they do agree the 'fishos' should be brought back to Gladstone.
The call has been backed by a former Gladstone 'fisho'.
He asked us not to name him but said there were once eight officers patrolling these waters; that number was reduced down to four and now there are none.
"It's ridiculous there is no fisheries officer in Gladstone," he said. "It takes a lot of man power to get a conviction and without anyone, (the crabbers) will get away with a lot."
He said during the boom fishos had been unable to afford rents and left.
"It's like a blooming maze up the Narrows," he said. "It's almost impossible to find them raiding other people's pots. I can understand professional crabbers getting upset, it's how they make a living."
He said he would have worked for nothing back in the day. "I saved a lot of female crabs over the years and I used to like throwing them back," he said.
As for the punches? Bob doesn't think it'll change.
"There will always be fighting in the crabbing game," he said. "There is no honour amongst thieves. It's in all fishing industries."