In Fiji, the mud crab (Scylla serrata) or qari is always in high market demand and sells at lucrative prices. Women fishers play a dominant role in the mud crab fishery in Fiji. They use traditional knowledge and techniques to catch mud crabs from within the mangroves, often with their bare hands.
Unfortunately, the growing demand for mud crabs is resulting in an increase in the number of small size crabs being sold at the local markets, often through unsustainable practices. Continuous over harvesting and capturing of undersized mud crabs is resulting in declines in mud crabs in the wild in some places.
Realising the need to protect their mud crab fishery, the Navunievu community (Waitabu and Tacilevu villages) in the Province of Bua, committed to a three-year Mud Crab Management Plan in 2018. The management plan was developed through community consultations and was supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Ministry of Fisheries.
One of the core objectives of the plan was to train the mud crab catchers (who were primarily women) on harvesting, post-harvest fattening techniques to improve the income generated from sales at local markets.
For the plan to be effective, the community agreed to comply with the legal minimum size limit of 125 mm, prohibit the catching of female berried (egg carrying) crabs and establishing a tabu area (temporal fishing closure) to build up the stocks in the mangroves.
The crab catchers in Navunievu community were not only trained on harvesting techniques but provided wristbands to measure the size of each crab they caught. Undersized crabs are left in the wild to grow. Fishers were also provided logbooks to record information on their weekly catches.
By complying with the restrictions in their management plan, the Navunievu community are already seeing the economic benefits – these being, improved income for their families. Mud crabs can produce a lot of young in a short time. If the community remain committed to implementing and monitoring their management plan, they should quickly see an increase in the size and number of mud crabs in their mangrove forests within 1 to 2 years.