By Kelera Serelini-Varawa

For most women mud crab fishers within the districts of Kubulau, Bua, Navakasiga and Lekutu in Bua Province, mud crab collection is part of their everyday lives and a great source of food and livelihoods.

Despite the growing demand for mud crabs in the local market, mud crab fishers in these communities need to sell the right size and high quality mud crabs in order earn a reasonable income.

A value chain analysis of the mud crab fishery by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found that though these communities are selling mud crabs regularly, they are still getting lower prices for their crabs as compared to other fishers who sell at the bigger markets in Viti Levu. In many instances, women are getting lower prices than their male counterparts.

WCS has since been working with these communities to improve their livelihoods and to encourage them to have a management plan in place to protect critical mangrove habitats they are reliant on and to ensure that their mud crab fishery is sustainable.

Recently, a team including representatives from the Fiji Ministry of Fisheries and a technician from a local mud crab company, The Crab Company (Fiji), visited four districts to teach mud crab fishers techniques to improve the quality of their mud crabs.

The workshops were held in Waisa and Navunievu Village.

Mud crab fishers were introduced to the following:

  1. How to clear proposed area for fattening cages, without causing unnecessary harm to mangroves;
  2. Making fattening cages or pens from locally sourced materials;
  3. How to assess the quality of a mud crab, and what the market is interested in;
  4. Techniques of handling and storing mud crabs in containers
  5. Stocking and feeding of mud crabs in cages.

The mud crab fattening technique ensures fishers add weight to “thin” adult crabs, so they earn more from their sales. This is done by keeping thin mud crabs in cages made of local materials in mangrove areas and feeding these crabs from a few days to two weeks depending on how thin the crabs are. Mud crabs only need one-tenth of their body weight in feed each day to grow and fill out their shell.

WCS conservation officer, Margaret Fox who has been working with these communities stressed that the mud crab fattening technique was only for crabs caught within the legal size limit as per Fiji’s Fisheries Act i.e. with a minimum carapace width of 5 inches or 12.5 centimetres.

“Also, this fattening technique is not recommended for berried female crabs (crabs with eggs) as these crabs need to be left in the wild and not caught so they could release their eggs to safeguard the sustainability of the mud crab fishery,” she said.

Margaret added that participants were amazed at the new techniques they were taught as these would now help them better improve the quality of mud crabs they sell.