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Supply Chain Challenges | and their role in the Mud Crabs Trade

Mud crab is a high-value crustacean that is harvested in rural locations.

The demand for mud crabs is the highest in cities like Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, etc. Majority of the supplies originates from Indonesia, Philippines, India, and Vietnam. Mud crabs are transported via air freight to reach the consumers. The mud crabs are traded internationally, involving multiple parties to relay the goods efficiently after harvest. Unlike other seafood products, the mud crab needs to be transported and consumed alive. Mud crab is highly perishable, typical post-harvest mortality throughout the supply chain could achieve 30-40% in extreme cases resulting in substantial losses for traders.  Factoring in transportation, handling, and import fees, mud crab prices can be inflated as they are moved from the farm to consumer. In this article, we will focus on the problems resulting in the mortality throughout the supply chain.

Mud crab is an aquatic species, hence requiring them to be submerged in water to survive. However, they have adapted to have the ability to venture out of the water for a period of time. This adaptation is useful as it enables them to move to another location should they encounter pools of water diluted by excessive rainfall. Nevertheless, this adaptation is exploited during transportation as traders send the crabs without water. This is done to maximize the weight of the crabs per volume of the shipment. In South East Asia, Styrofoam boxes are used to transport crabs where 95% of the total weight is the crab itself. Stark differences are observed in the live fish industry, where the fish must be transported with water. As a result, mortality throughout the fish supply chain is much lower than mud crabs. Furthermore, mud crab is commonly mistaken as land crabs instead of aquatic crabs. In some locations, the crabs are kept without water while the volume is aggregated.

Other factors that result in the mortality is throughout the supply chain is the duration of travel. In some extreme cases, the duration from harvest to end consumers can sometimes take 5-6 days. This is prevalent in exporting countries with weak logistics infrastructure. Generally, crabs are moved between countries using air freights, but the longest duration incurs from the farms to the airport. The lengthened duration of the travel (without water) results in the accumulation of uric acid in the mud crabs, causing oxidative stress in mud crabs. Furthermore, the transportation of mud crabs will include multiple modes of transportation, by air, sea and on land. This subjects the mud crabs to fluctuating temperatures that stress the crabs. It is noteworthy to mention if a single crab dies in the Styrofoam boxes, it compromises the rest of the crabs resulting in higher mortality.

Like the rest of the seafood industry, mud crab trades require the goods to be handled by multiple parties. Mud crabs are typically moved through multiple aggregators, exporters, importers, and distributors. It is not common for businesses to vertically integrate into other countries, resulting in the need to re-check the receiving goods. Mud crabs are graded for fullness by pressing on their shells to check for the fullness. If excessive force is used, it results in cracking of the crab shells compromise the livelihood of the crab. Generally, the mud crabs are graded at least 2-3 times throughout the supply chain. The constant need for grading increases the stress the crab faces and increases the duration along the supply chain. For large aggregators that deals up to 1 ton a day, it is imperative that they grade the products efficiently. Very often, grading is usually done in a rough manner that causes increased mortality throughout the chain.

As the supply of mud crab continues to dwindle, it is important for the exporters to address some of these challenges. Apart from stable weather conditions and favorable water qualities, it is imperative for farms operators to look at the logistical route from farm to end consumers. It is only with an efficient logistic that farm operators can capture the most value of their harvest. India has made excellent progress in speeding up the logistical capabilities between Singapore. This enables an efficient transfer of mud crabs from multiple states in India to Singapore, where quality mud crabs are demanded. As a result, the mud crab industry in India is booming enticing many to invest in fattening facilities, grow-out ponds, and soft shell crab production. The same is observed in Vietnam and the Philippines in which logistical routes are established to China and Hongkong.

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