Apart from Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, the Philippines remains one of the top exporters for mud crabs in the Southeast Asian region. In 2018, it is estimated that over 18,100 tonnes of mud crabs have been exported from the Philippines to the global market all over the world. These big importers of the crabs include but not limited to China, Hong Kong and Singapore. The prices of mud crabs have been increasing over the years, enticing many farmers to convert their shrimp ponds into mud crab aquaculture. In this blog post, we will be discussing the current status of the mud crab aquaculture in the Philippines and uncover some challenges within the industry.
In the Philippines, most farmers practice polyculture, where the mud crabs are cultured together with milkfish (Bangus) or tiger prawns. The seedlings of various sizes (langaw-langaw or ‘fly’ size to Matchbox size) are stocked into the mud ponds for 4-5 months. The crabs are usually stocked in low densities of 1000-2000 crabs/hectare to avoid cannibalism. Instead of mud ponds, some operators prefer to culture the crabs in mangrove pens. These mangrove pens are made of bamboo or mesh green netting to prevent the crabs from escaping from the pens. The popular region for mud crab aquaculture includes Panay, Masbate, Leyte, Mindanao, etc.
Mud crabs are very high in demand especially during the festive seasons starting from December to February, and prices could have risen to 1300 pesos/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. The production of seedlings in the hatcheries should be improved and commercialized to prevent an over-exploitation of the mud crabs in the wild, as their young are no longer allowed to mature and repopulate.
The mud crab species commonly found in the Philippines are the Scylla serrata, Scylla olivacea, and Scylla transquebarica. Studies have already shown that the Scylla serrata or locally known as Bulik is the faster-growing breed, and they are the only species that can grow bigger than 1 kg. Ideally, all pond operators would only like to stock their ponds with Scylla serrata for optimal profitability. However, it is very difficult for pond operators to implement as they are not able to identify the species from the seedlings. It is also common for pond owners to buy Scylla serrata crablets but to find another species when they harvest at the end of the culture cycle. It is also common for species like Scylla olivacea, known for their aggressiveness to bore holes into culture ponds causing problems down the line. The lack of seedlings has also encouraged the illegal importation of other species of mud crabs (Scylla paramamosain) from countries like Vietnam. The ecological impact of bringing a non-native species like Scylla paramamosain into the Philippines remains unclear.
The increasing price of seedling has also encouraged the development of mud crab hatchery in the country. Although the technology for mud crab hatcheries has been developed almost a decade ago, private hatcheries often faced 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. Hatcheries enable seedlings to be produced in a controlled environment, creating stocks that are disease-free and readily adapted to various feeds including pellets. Despite having the technology to produce crablets, hatchery operators still need to develop and invest in skill sets to drive down the cost and ensure reliable and consistent production to wean off the market from wild seedlings.
The mud crab industry is at its inflection point, where aquaculture production is forecast to overtake the fisheries' production globally. Being one of the biggest producing countries, the Philippines needs to ensure the sustainability of the mud crab farming by ensuring the wild seedlings are not over-exploited and should shift their reliance on wild seedlings to hatchery-produced seedlings. Having a thorough understanding of the farming process is important to get into mud crab aquaculture business. Businesses or investors need to be clear and invest in areas that will help to gain a more secure footing in this ever-changing landscape.