New take on northern seafood

A new publication shares the stories of what it takes to produce seafood along with some tasty takes on how to eat it

Photo of Norm Hedditch Norm Hedditch hauls a Spanish Mackerel onboard as dusk falls.
Photo: David Hancook

By Catherine Norwood

Even in Darwin, with its legacy of tough people working in extreme conditions, the Vietnamese fishers who trap mud crabs at the mouth of the Roper River are the stuff of legend. They fish in one of the most remote parts of Australia, where the river meets the Gulf of Carpentaria, about 750 kilometres south-east of Darwin.

As many other fishers in the Northern Territory do, the mud crabbers battle sharks, crocodiles and jellyfish to harvest their catch, as well as rough weather and strong currents, and even the mud itself, which sometimes buries their pots.

Their story is just one of many that author and photographer David Hancock details in the new book Northern Territory Seafood, commissioned by the Northern Territory Seafood Council. Others include Barramundi fishers and farmers, and those who fish for mackerel, snapper, shark, reef and aquarium species, sea cucumber and prawns.

The book combines the tales of what it takes to bring the best seafood from the Top End to market, along with recipes specially developed for the publication by chefs Steve Sunk and Jason Wilkes.

The concept for the book was initiated almost 10 years ago, and David Hancock has spent two years compiling the stories and photographing commercial fishers and the selected dishes. He says while the book provides recipes to showcase the distinctive qualities of different seafood, it also shows people where their seafood comes from and provides an insight into the lives of commercial fishers

“There is a lot of conflict between recreational and commercial fishers, which seems to be exacerbated by local news reporting. A lot of recreational fishers do not understand what commercial fishers go through. There are also a lot of people who like eating seafood who don’t really understand where it comes from, nor catch it themselves.”

David Hancock says from an environmental perspective, it is often the commercial fisherswho are leading the way, introducing limited fishing seasons or voluntarily restricting their catch area to ensure the sustainability of the resource. He says these initiatives are in addition to existing rules and regulations that make the NT one of the most regulated fisheries in the world.

Spanish Mackerel fisher Norm Hedditch is among the fishers who took David Hancock out to their fishing grounds and shared their stories. Norm Hedditch says with only one day allocated for the photo shoot, they did not land a mackerel until almost dusk. And then they landed 30 fish in the last hour.

“The book’s been a long time coming, but I had a ball doing the photos,” Norm Hedditch says. His favourite recipe is the entree gravlax of mackerel and salad, in which the fish is cured overnight in a mixture of dill, sugar, salt and lemon.

Barramundi wild-catch fishers also feature in the book along with Barramundi farmers. General manager of Humpty Doo Barramundi Dan Richards says there has been a tremendous response to the book, which has been popular as a gift.

“Visitors who have tried the recipes in the book say they’ve come up a treat. It’s a great initiative and it’s good to see the whole industry working together to promote NT and Australian seafood. The team that has pulled it together have done a great job and the imagery is amazing.”

One of Dan Richards’s favourite Barramundi recipes (a version of which features in the book) is Barramundi sashimi. “Sashimi is our go-to dish when we have special visitors as it highlights the unique culinary features of the saltwater Barramundi.

“When we do in-store demonstrations we fry the fish and children seem to love it. It’s actually good for them, because it’s high in omega-3s, so parents like that too.”

Copies of Northern Territory Seafood are available from the NT Seafood Council.

Chilli mango mud crab


  • 2 live mud crabs
  • 6 tbs oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped finely
  • 4 long red chillies, chopped finely
  • 4 tbs ginger, thin strips
  • 2 tbs coriander root, chopped finely
  • 1.5 cups of water or chicken stock
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup sweet chilli sauce
  • 6 tbs hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbs fish sauce
  • 1–2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 3 firm ripe mangoes, cut into finger slices
  • 1 cup spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup mixed Vietnamese mint and coriander leaves

Before cooking, place live mud crabs in freezer for approximately 30 minutes.

Clean the crab by removing top shell and gills (also known as dead man’s fingers). Lightly rinse the crab.

Cut body in half lengthways and then cut into three on each side.

Crack the claws to allow the sauce in.

Heat oil in a wok until smoking. Add garlic, chilli, ginger and coriander root. Cook for 30 seconds on high heat until fragrant.

Add crabs and cook for one minute or until shells start to turn orange.

Add water or chicken stock and stir in all sauces, sugar and salt. Bring to the boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Add mango, spring onion, mint and coriander leaves before serving.

Recipe by Steve Sunk and Jason Wilkes.

More information

Donna English, 08 8981 5194,

Northern Territory Seafood Council

Northern Territory Seafood Book