Ceas Crab is the largest spanner crab fishing and production company in Australia. Based in Queensland, it is owned and operated by Neville Rockliff and his family. Originally from Tasmania, the Rockliff family has earned a worldwide reputation for their seafood. Only established in 2004, Ceas Crab now holds the largest quota of the entire fishery, ensuring consistent and superior product.
Spanner crabs are caught by means of a dilly net. Rectangular shape, they are baited and submerged, attracting and trapping the crabs, but nothing else. “It’s quite an effective way,” says Neville Rockliff. “Because you don’t catch any bycatch. You don’t do any damage to the bottom at all; it’s the only fishing I know to be so environmentally friendly.”
The spanner crab fishery is the first in Australia to be recognized as a sustainable fishery. Ceas Crab employs its own safeguards to ensure the fishery’s longevity. We don’t take any female crabs at all, we’re allowed to but we don’t, because we want to put them back,” says Rockliff. “I know there’s going to be a good fishery there for my grandchildren.”
Before Ceas Crab became involved in the Spanner Crab fishery, the meat had a very bad reputation in Australia, due to most of the prime spanner crabs being shipped to Asia, leaving the local market with the dead, or sub-par catch. After acquiring the majority quota, Ceas quickly set about changing the local opinion through new self-imposed regulations and methods. On their boats, Ceas employs a system in which water in a tank is chilled to 14°c. When crabs are caught, they are placed in the chilled tank, which relaxes them and puts them to sleep. This prevents the souring of the meat, which is caused by the crab being distressed. Furthermore Ceas Crab will only process live, healthy crabmeat. “When you’re supplying some of the best restaurants around the world, you can’t risk giving them bad product.” says Rockliff. The majority of the processing of spanner crabmeat is done by hand. The veteran staff at Ceas Crab has developed a very efficient method of removing the meat from the shell. Shelling by hand allows for a more rigorous inspection process, ensuring only quality product is shipped.
Spanner crab offers many diverse meal options to Australia’s dinner tables. “You can do what you like with it, and it’s going to taste great,“ says Rockliff. “We have it in omelettes, we have it in scrambled eggs, we have in pasta, we’ve made stir-fry, you can make fritters… Really, there’s no end to what you can do with it.”
The Rockliffs’ long history in the seafood industry has earned them many close relationships with related businesses. Their product reputation is well known to their suppliers, and the input from friends in the restaurant industry helped Ceas develop their crab processing methods. “It’s really important to have a great relationship with these people,” says Rockliff. “You can’t work without them.”
The challenges facing companies such as Ceas Crab in the future is the implementation of further red tape put in place by the government, making fishing less and less attractive of a business option. “For anybody to go fishing now, the amount of documentation that a skipper has got to fill in is just ridiculous.” says Rockliff. The sheer volume of marine parks in Australia’s waters is restricting the fishing industry as well.
Neville Rockliff started fishing in 1972 with his father in Tasmania. He progressed through the 1980’s from lobster fishing to salmon and trout aquaculture, and co-founded Petuna Aquaculture with his parents in 1990. It was shortly after that that Neville and his wife, Helen, made their way to Queensland to start their next step in the family business: Ceas Crab. “When I was in Tasmania,” says Rockliff, “We caught a big crab called a king crab. They’re beautiful to eat but we could never sell them. So when I came up here and saw the spanner crab, I thought, ‘this is a beautiful product, but nobody’s doing anything with it,’ and that’s when I decided to do what we’re doing today.”