By Luke Uluiburotu (WCS Volunteer)
I am from Namalata village, Kubulau in Bua Province, Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island and very well accustomed to seeing women in my village going out to the mangrove forests nearby to catch crabs on a daily basis. They go out to catch crabs at sunrise and usually return later at noon taking up the better part of their days. Most of our women catch crabs to sell to middlemen who come to the village and money earned is used to support their families.
My knowledge of crab catching goes only as far as assisting my aunties during my school holidays in the village where I got introduced to mud crab catching, a skill that I have to this day. I was also made aware of the value of mud crabs in the different homes in our village; I saw the money earned was spent mostly on buying school stationery, basic groceries as well as contributing to other families, traditional and church commitments.
I revisited some of my childhood knowledge and skills on catching mud crabs when I assisted Margaret Fox, who coordinates the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Women in Fisheries Programme in Fiji. I joined in the field for training on financial literacy targeted at fishers and on how to fatten mud crab prior to sale to increase income for fisherwomen. The training objectives aimed to teach the mud crab fishers to understand market value and the need for selling good quality crabs that could be sold for a better price. This would create a strong bond between sellers and buyers and increase the satisfaction levels for both players.
The training was held in Waisa Village (Kubulau District) and Navunievu Village in Bua District for two consecutive days. I was very excited to be part of the WCS team that facilitated this training for mud crab fishers who came from different villages within Bua Province. It gave me a broader understanding of the involvement of women in the mud crab fishery. I also learned of the struggles and the importance of having a sustainable mud crab fishery to benefit the women and the coastal villages that depend on the fishery for livelihoods.
The post-harvest training was conducted by Mr Guirico Ganon of The Crab Company (Fiji) Ltd and facilitated by WCS in partnership with Tarusila Veibi of the Fiji Locally-Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) network and Manoa Rerevakarua from the Ministry of Fisheries (MoF). One of the aims of this training was to increase the crab collectors’ awareness of the importance of providing quality mud crabs to consumers and the potential increased economic benefits of selling heavier crabs. Many of the fishers are unaware of the prices that other mud crab fishers are receiving when selling at larger markets in Suva and to high-end hotels and restaurants. The training boosted their confidence enable them to negotiate for better prices, and it was well worth the time and effort that spent in knee-deep mud in mangrove swamps to catch mud crabs.
Mud crab fishers were taught techniques on how to fatten “thin” or empty crabs in cages made from bamboo known as the “fattening” process. This post-harvest technique ensures crabs have enough meat in them before being sold. This is good news for both the customers and the sellers, as the customers get to consume “meaty” crabs while the sellers, who in Bua Province are largely the fishers themselves, are able to earn more money from selling better quality crabs as a result of the fattening process.
They also learned about proper handling, tying and packaging techniques as part of food preservation, quality and presentation of crabs to consumers.
So far, Navunievu and Waisa village have gone ahead to start their very own mud crab fattening project with other villages hoping to do the same in the coming months.
I am glad that conservation organisations like WCS continue to help our communities especially recognising and promoting the valuable role women play in developing and enhancing lives in the village.