There are a few words synonymous with women’s fishing activities and three of these are dogo or tiri (mangrove) and qari (mud crab) in the local Fijian language. This is because the  collecting mud of crabs from mangrove forests is often associated with women.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries, Women in Fisheries Network-Fiji (WiFN-Fiji) and Fiji Locally Managed Area Network (FLMMA), launched a project late last year focused on the economic empowerment of women engaged in mud crab fisheries. As part of this work, we will be working with these women to understand the overall state of Fiji’s mud crab fishery. There is almost no current information on the fishery, with the market data being last published in 1989!

A mud crab

A mud crab

Mud crabs were selected because the growing concern about the number of undersize crabs being sold in markets, and they are a high value commodity largely targeted by women in coastal areas. With generous support from the Flora Family Foundation and David and Lucille Packard Foundation, we have developed protocols to conduct an analysis of the supply chain, catch per unit effort logbooks for women crab fishers, and survey forms for market surveys. The Department of Fisheries and WCS staff conducted value chain analysis surveys in 18 villages across all 9 districts in Bua Province in November and December 2015. A preliminary assessment of mangrove habitats was  done at most of the sites to explore which methods will be used in early 2016 to assess the mud crab population density in a select number of mangrove forests.

This project is timely as the nation embraces economic opportunities for women and as they become more visible within the social fabrics of Fijian society. To work closely with local women, Tarusila Veibi from Bua village has been hired as the first female community representative for FLMMA. We will look at the challenges that local women fishers encounter, and understand what markets they utilise while building their capacity to manage and harvest mud crabs sustainably. We hope to assist them break down barriers they have to their social and economic empowerment. We want to make sure that these women have strong livelihoods while making sure we have mud crabs now and into for the future.