Mud crabs (Scylla serrata) are commonly found in every municipal market in Fiji, with large adults fetching upwards of FJ$100/crab. These animals are traditionally harvested and sold by rural women from coastal areas. Commonly known as qari, mud crabs are considered a Fijian delicacy reserved for special occasions.
However, over harvesting though has led to declining stocks and an increase in sale of undersized mud crabs, as well as increased prices as restaurants and hotels also compete for a share of this dwindling commodity. This fishery appears to be at a tipping point, and without intervention we anticipate this species may become locally extinct in many parts of the country. There is very little data and information to enable the sustainable management of this important fishery in Fiji.
Last month, a new partnership was formed between the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Women in Fisheries Network – Fiji (WiFN – Fiji) and Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network (FLMMA) to improve the livelihoods and management of the Fiji mud crab fishery using good science, sound management practices and business entrepreneurship. Supported by the Flora Family Foundation and David and Lucille Packard Foundation, and in collaboration with the Department of Fisheries and Ministry for Women, we will support and promote women-led businesses based on sustainable harvest and management of mud crabs in the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.
WCS – Fiji Country Director, Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai says “the Wildlife Conservation Society will provide scientific and technical support to strengthen existing community management through a direct engagement with women involved in fisheries. This is the Fiji Program’s first gender focused project and I am excited about the potential this presents for our Fijian women in coastal areas.”
The partnership between the three organisations aims to nurture the growth of at least three women-led businesses based on a sustainable model of mud crab harvesting and management; explore the social, environmental and economic value of Fijian women in fisheries and eventually expand this business model ambitiously across 80 more coastal communities in country.
A promising facet of the project is the fact that is aligns with existing efforts by the Fijian Government as well as women-led organisations to advance women’s income generating ability as well as create working models on natural resource management that address the country’s economic growth aspirations.
According to the Crab Company (Fiji) Limited which is the country’s leading crab business, the sector is valued at less than $0.5M FJD for the domestic market and has potential to expand further to tap into export markets however stock levels restrict expansion beyond domestic consumption.
Words by Dwain Qalovaki.