Background – Mud crabs are an important species in New Ireland, where they feature on shirts, lap-laps and bags to symbolize the province and the uniqueness of the people in this region of Papua New Guinea. Mud crabs are also an important food source and income, particularly for women who harvest the species in mangrove areas. Concerns about overharvesting and the capture of undersize and reproducing crabs has caused WCS PNG to become involved in management strategies and research on this species, to ensure its sustainable harvest in to the future.
In New Ireland the mud crab is a delicacy and it fetches a high price at the local market. Women are the main harvesters of this species and they come from nearby islands to sell their catch at the main markets in town. This provides an important source of income to women in New Ireland, who often have little access to cash or earnings. As a result, income derived from mud crabs in mangrove areas is an important of cash to meet the basic household needs of their family. Because of the growing household demands, the women are now forced to take undersize crabs and berried crabs (females with eggs), meaning they are taking stock that would normally repopulate the area for the future. There are additional threats to the mangrove habitat that mud crabs are found in.
Mangrove trees are increasingly cut for building materials and firewood, impacting on coastal erosion, fish spawning grounds and population of mud crabs (follow this link for more on our mangrove conservation work).
WCS has recognized that mud crabs are at risk of unsustainable harvesting, placing this species at risk and impacting the lives of families that gain financial support from this animal. As a consequence we are focusing on research in to the ecology of mud crabs and their sustainable management in order to assist local communities to maintain crab populations. Research on New Ireland has undertaken markets surveys to determine the areas that mud crabs are harvested from and secondly has assessed the mangrove habitat in at key sites for the species.
The market survey has identified twenty communities that supply the town of Kavieng’s market, with most harvesting coming from one or two village areas in areas where mangroves are also threatened by habitat loss.
WCS has prioritized awareness to these communities on managing their resources through the development of community resource management plans including regulations on harvesting berried females and size restrictions on harvested crabs. We believe that by educating and informing these communities with the best available scientific information on mud crabs they will be better placed to make informed decisions on the management of their resources, so that they can benefit from this resource today and in the future.