The aquaculture sector is forecasted to grow with 4.46% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for the year 2019-2022.
The main driver of growth is due to rising population (which is expected to reach 8 billion at the year 2022), along with the decline in the captured fisheries. The food production will have to increase by 70% within the next 40 years to feed the population. Mud crabs (Scylla .spp) aquaculture have also been forecasted to grow due to the high demand in Asia. Mud Crab wholesale prices can reach up to USD 30++/kg at peak season, as it is considered a delicacy for many. Hence, investors have joined the mud crab industry aiming at filling the gaps of the industry.
Demand- Fuelling Asia’s Appetite for mud crabs
The importers for mud crabs include China, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, as it is predominantly an ASIAN delicacy. The Chinese consumer demand for mud crab has been growing at a staggering pace throughout the past 2-3 years. In 2019, It has been reported in that Chinese buyers would set up buying stations in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka and offering a premium of 1-2 USD/kg higher to farmers and fisherman. Meanwhile, countries like Malaysia and Thailand that used to be able to catch mud crab from the wild have also started to import from other producers. Singapore is famous for its Chilli Crab dish, and imports mud crab from India, Sri Lanka, Philippines.
Mud crabs are considered a luxury food item for our average middle-class consumers. The annualized per capita consumption for mud crabs in Singapore is about 1kg. In Asia, mud crabs are shared with others making it an excellent dish for family gatherings. As a result, the peak periods are usually during the festive seasons with the most notable being Chinese New Year, Christmas, Mothers and fathers days. During these periods, pricing can surge up 15-20% in one week. With the growing middle class in South East Asia, more consumers will demand mud crab during the festive season.
Supply- Overfishing, and challenges faced in aquaculture.
Apart from the rising demand, the mud crab trade also suffers from a lack of supply. Given the high prices, mud crabs are susceptible to overfishing. In Malaysia, there has been difficulty in getting mud crabs bigger than 500grams, which was not the case in the past. Similar problems have also plagued other locations like Thailand and India and Sri Lanka. Traders in Sri Lanka have also started seeing the effects of overfishing, with big crabs population starting to decline. Apart from overfishing, mud crab also faces pressures over the loss of habitat. Mud crab is commonly found in mangrove areas, which is also being destroyed due to clearing, firewood production, and pollution. More than 35% of the world’s mangrove forest is already gone and is classified as one of the most threatened ecosystems. Countries that are still sourcing mud crabs directly from the wild include Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh.
Nevertheless, there are still countries that have started farming mud crabs. Philippines, Vietnam, and China have anticipated the demand and have started farming at least a decade earlier. Unlike other crustaceans like P. vannamei, mud crabs aquaculture are still in its infancy stage. Some of the challenges faced by the mud crab industry include high mortality, lack of formulated feed, poor fundamental understanding of the species. Due to their aggressive nature, mud crab aquaculture faces huge losses due to cannibalism when culturing in traditional ponds. Mortality rates can vary between 50-90% for the culture period of 5 months.
The short term (2-3 years) outlook for the mud crab prices is likely to remain high, mainly due to the supply constraint. The increasing price would encourage fisherman and seafood exporter to venture further to source for mud crab, where their profitability would be dependent on existing infrastructure. High mud crab prices will also attract more investors into the mud crab aquaculture business with R&D projects and emerging technology focused on improving yield. The long term outlook will largely depend on improvement in farming technology.