By Margaret Fox & Sangeeta Mangubhai

A study by the Wildlife Conservation Society in partnership with the Ministry of Fisheries, Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area (FLMMA) Network and Women in Fisheries Network-Fiji (WiFN-Fiji), documented the impact of Cyclone Winston on mud crab fishers in Bua Province, on Fiji’s second biggest island of Vanua Levu. At least 48.5 percent of mud crab fishers interviewed had stopped harvesting crabs due to difficulties accessing their collection sites, damages and losses sustained to fishing gears and boats following the aftermath of the cyclone that hit Fiji in February last year.

The mud crab fishery is largely a high-value domestic fishery in Fiji providing an important source of livelihoods for local communities with access to healthy stands of mangrove forests. The fishery is dominated by women who have extensive knowledge about the crabs and the best places to find and catch them.

Following the cyclone, over half of the fishers noticed a change in the number of crabs caught post-cyclone and an increase in market price was reported by over a quarter of fishers interviewed. Initially, buyers made more frequent trips to buy mud crabs from fishers from less impacted villages. On average, crabs were sold for 15/kg, and ranging from 8/kg to 18/kg across Bua Province. This is on average 13 percent higher than pre-cyclone prices which averaged $10.90/kg.

Tropical Cyclone Winston had caused damages and losses estimated at FJ$1.99 billion. Fisheries which made up 1.8 per cent of Fiji’s GDP in 2015, sustained damages and losses estimated at over FJ$40.7million according to the government-led Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), that is guiding Fiji’s recovery efforts. However, the PDNA did not have time to collect detailed data on the impact to local fishers, particularly women fishers.

The study was conducted through April to May to assess social and economic impacts of the cyclone on mud crab fishery in the Province, and provide recommendations for government and development partners on where recovery and rehabilitation efforts should be directed.

Some of the key recommendations made from mud crab study are:

  • Ensure government support to fishing communities in gender sensitive and takes into consideration the losses and damages incurred by women fishers;
  • Provide up to date information to women fishers on pricing to ensure they get fair price for mud crabs;
  • Encourage villagers and districts to establish regulations or guidelines for the mud crab fishery which promotes the resilience of the fishery to cyclone events;
  • Ensure districts with damaged mangroves within their tabu areas remained closed to help promote recovery; and
  • Continue to monitor the mud crab fishery to gauge the recovery of the fishery and the impact to subsistence and livelihoods in Bua Province.