In the previous posts, we have understood the rapid development in mud crab aquaculture technology. One of the core technology in the whole production chain is hatchery technology. In this blog post, we will discuss the technology states of current commercial hatcheries and their commercial outlook.
Contradictory to popular belief, the mud crab hatchery technology has been around for a decade with the earliest record of successful hatching operation in 1997. Nevertheless, there have been massive improvements since then. At the moment, hatcheries are able to produce all 4 species of mud crabs (Scylla serrata, Scylla paramamosain, Scylla transqueberia, and Scylla olivacea). However, it is common for hatcheries to focus on the efforts in producing Scylla serrata species for grow-out purposes. In Vietnam, where Scylla serrata is not native to the local region, hatcheries prefer the production of Scylla paramamosain. In mud crab hatcheries, broodstock are carefully selected and kept in maturation tanks. After spawning, they are kept in hatching tank for 14 days until the hatching of the eggs. The larvae are then transferred into larvae tanks where they are kept until the crablet stage. Apart from maintaining excellent water chemistry, many hatcheries also have to culture live feed like rotifers or artemia for the larvae. Crab larvae are also highly susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections, and controlling disease outbreak is paramount to success for mud crab hatcheries.
Mud crab hatcheries are usually located in regions where crablets are in high demand. This includes countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, huge amount of crablets are exported to foreign countries. The crab hatcheries will sell crablets in the c1-c4 sizes from their larvae tanks to pond owners that stock them in their ponds. The crablets from the hatcheries are grown into adult sizes of 300grams in Vietnam and 500 grams in the Philippines. These hatcheries often face fierce price competition from other hatcheries, and prices are often decided based on the demand for the product. However, they have been also cases whereby hatcheries in Malaysia have vertically integrated downstream into pond production and soft shell crab production.
Mud crabs are very high in demand especially during the festive seasons starting from December to February, and prices could have risen to 25 USD/kg. This creates huge incentives for businesses to attempt to start culturing mud crabs during July-August, with hopes to catch the high pricing for the production. This will then create a huge demand for the seedlings among the farmers to stock their ponds. The seedlings that are commonly used at the moment for grow-out are harvested directly from the wild using scoop or scissors nets. However, the demand for getting the seedlings is challenged by the low availability of wild seedlings from June to October due to 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. Further, rampant overfishing of wild seeding has resulted in low population further driving the price up. As a result, pond operators have opted for hatchery-produced crablets. Hatcheries enable seedlings to be produced in a controlled environment, creating stocks that are disease-free and readily adapted to various feeds including pellets. Hence, the future outlook for hatcheries operators remains good and more shrimp hatchery are likely to switch to crab production due to intense competition in the shrimp sector.
Despite the maturation of the hatchery and grow-out technology, there remains a missing link the industry. The hatchery produces c1-c4 crablets while pond operators usually prefer matchbox sizes, there is a need for a nursery operations. Apart from Vietnam, where nursery operators can be found, this is not common for the Philippines and Malaysia. Having a nursery optimizes land usage and profitability.
The mud crab industry is at its inflection point, where aquaculture production is forecast to overtake the fisheries' production globally. Hatcheries technology will play an important part to ensure that the industry is sustainable and scalable in the long run.