The mud crab industry is expanding due to its scarcity especially in locations like Singapore, China and Japan. Opportunistic producers will attempt to fill this demand by picking up production. Nevertheless, not all producers are able to expand their production to keep up with demands. In this article, we will touch on which country is leading the production and the underlying reasons.
From 2010 to 2013, mud crabs produced from aquaculture were 39,274 tons per year on average. While mud crabs from the fisheries (captured from the wild) were 39,194 tons per year on average. During that period, the Philippines dominated the aquaculture production space, while Indonesia led the fisheries production area. Nevertheless, over the period of 2014 to 2016, aquaculture production has overtaken the fisheries production significantly. Mud crab production from the 2014-2016 period from aquaculture has almost doubled from the first period (2010-2013) hitting a whopping 92,900 tons in 2016. The main reason for this jump in production is due to Vietnam, which overtakes the Philippines in the production of mud crabs via aquaculture. Between 2013 to 2014, the Vietnamese production for mud crabs has increased by 380% within a short span of time. After which the production expanded with approximately 15% year-on-year until 2016. However, this rapid expansion has only been observed in Vietnam and not in the Philippines, where production remains stable at 129,642 tons/year. In 2017, the Vietnamese production is approximately 3.7 times bigger than the mud crab production from the Philippines. Due to the colossal mud crab production in Vietnam, the amount of crabs produced from aquaculture have exceeded fisheries production by a factor of 2. However, in 2017 fisheries have also caught up with aquaculture with Indonesia capturing about 64,602 tons in 2017.
There are many explanations of how were the Vietnamese able to expand the production of mud crabs. The first being the geographical advantages that Vietnam has over the Philippines. Unlike the Philippines, Vietnam is not an archipelago. Mud crabs are commonly grown in the southern province called Camao, live crabs can be transported by land directly to Ho Chi Minh where it can be exported to other countries. As a result, it simplifies the logistics and reduces the cost while enabling the farmers to capture more of its value of the product. As a result, farm operators have more margins to enable the upstream production of crablets via nursery and hatchery to thrive. This resulted in the rapid development of independently owned hatcheries which play a crucial part in the rapid expansion of the industry. Due to the cannibalistic nature of mud crabs, a lot of land is required to culture these species resulting in the competition in land use. It is very likely for production to reach a plateau due to rising land cost, as the land can be also used for Pacific White Shrimp Farming.
In the Philippines, most farmers practise polyculture, where the mud crabs are cultured together with milkfish (Bangus) or tiger prawns. The Philippines was able to gain an initial advantage due to their native Scylla serrata species that were used as seedling for their ponds. However, the over-reliance of the wild seedling has not enabled the scaling of the industry due to lack of supply, especially during the monsoon season. These factors result in an increase in the price of from 7-8 pesos up to 14 pesos for the fly size (langaw-langaw) seedling. The increasing price of seedling has also encouraged the development of mud crab hatchery in the country. Although the technology for mud crab hatcheries was developed almost a decade ago, private hatcheries often face a lack of demand for their crablets due to competition from the cheaper wild seedlings. The recent turn of tides and over-exploitation of wild seedlings have prompted hatchery operators to scale up production to keep up with the demand. At our best knowledge, there are 4-5 operational hatcheries in the Philippines at the moment and 5 more hatcheries are expected to be set up to cater to the demand in the growing market. One of the advantages of getting hatchery-produced seedlings is the guarantee of the quality and consistency of the cultured species which later on will be stocked in the ponds.
Despite gains in aquaculture production for mud crabs, fisheries have also seen an increase in captured mud crabs. In 2017, the fisheries industry have produced over 67,102 tons of mud crabs, with the bulk being captured in Indonesia (64,602 tons). Indonesia has one of the biggest mangrove reserves (east of Kalimantan) that is responsible for the massive production. While it remains unclear how fisheries might impact the local mud crab population, it remains important for the country to regulate the industry to have sustainable policies. Several strategies were adopted to curb the over-exploitation of the species which include export bans for crabs under 200grams (live of soft shell) and also mature female crabs.
The next few years in the mud crab business will be interesting. Given the growth in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines there will be a huge incentive for crabs to be sold in the domestic market. With the development of more commercial hatcheries in the Philippines, we could also potentially see the similar growth we observed in Vietnam.