August 15, 2022
PHNOM PENH – Despite the rainy season, accompanied by strong winds and giant waves, crab fishing continues to meet the consumption demand across Cambodia.
On average, more than five tonnes of blue swimming crabs (Portunus pelagicus), known locally as Kdam Ses, are caught by fishermen everyday off the coasts to sell to wholesale and retail vendors across the country.
According to scientific research in the fishery sector, one female crab has over one million eggs, with the survival rate of adult crabs around 40 per cent.
However, big hauls of crab is causing a decline in Cambodia’s Kdam Ses resources or can lead to its extinction in the coming years if no proper protection is accorded.
Luckily, a crab bank project, established in 2008 by 28 fishing communities in coastal provinces such as Kep, Kampot, Preah Sihanouk and Koh Kong, has ensured a lasting supply of Cambodia’s Kdam Ses. This is according to the fishermen and officials in the sector.
Did the so-called crab bank really contribute to increasing crab resources? What are the responsibilities of coastal fishermen to ensure that there is sufficient stock at all times?
Chak Vineath, director of the Fisheries Administration (FiA) Kep provincial cantonment, told The Post that the idea for the crab bank originated in Japan in the mid-1980s.
The establishment of the crab bank is to increase the natural yield of crabs by ascertaining the sustainability of crab resources where female crabs are allowed to lay their eggs first before they are caught.
Vineath said one female crab carries up to 1.2 million eggs, 80 per cent of which are likely to hatch with a survival rate of about 40 per cent, assuming it is well protected.
To safeguard marine resources for the sustainability of their livelihood, each fishing community has to deploy as many artificial box drains in seagrass conservation areas which act as “hidden habitats” for crabs, fish and other marine species to breed.
Assuming there is donation of 1,000 female crabs with eggs, If each fishing community receives a donation of 1,000 female crabs with eggs every year, it would lay eggs that could help increase the stock.
“When the baby crabs are over one-week-old, they will be released into the protected areas, so we can expect to have at least 30 million crabs per year,” Vineath said.
In Kep, there are three fishing communities – Phum Thmey fishing community, Angkor fishing community and O’Krasa fishing community – have jointly established crab bank projects.
Vineath pointed out three types of methods within the project which are used by the communities to raise crab stocks. They include donation of crabs, purchasing female crabs with her eggs and implementing credit.
Community crab bank members are selected based on their fishing skills, credit payment ability and willingness to provide one female crab with her eggs every two to three days.
Prak San, president of a crab bank at the Phum Thmey finishing community told the Post that since 2008, the community has 28 family members who participated in the project which was supported by CORIN, FAO and EU through the FiA’s Kep provincial cantonment.
Members are required to donate 10 to 15 female crabs with eggs per month. Hatched eggs are released into the community’s seagrass conservation areas. Since then, crab yields have increased significantly.
“The number of crabs has grown remarkably because we release millions of baby crabs which hatch in the seagrass conservation areas per year.
“Previously, a fishing boat could catch about 10kg of crab a day using 1,000 bait traps but now they can bring back nearly 15kg using the same amount of traps,” Prak said.
Tith Rin, president of the Trapeang Ropov fishing community in Prek Tnort commune, Bokor town, Kampot province said fishermen who joined the project are allowed to borrow between 500,000 riel and one million riel ($125 and $250).
It has a repayment period of six months to one year with no interest but members are required to donate four to six female crabs with eggs monthly, depending on the sum borrowed from the community.
“We keep those female crabs with her eggs so that they can lay their eggs and the babies release into the community’s seagrass and coral conservation areas.
“The female crabs are fed for one week after they lay their eggs and are [later] sold to support and develop the community,” Tith told The Post.
He explained that the crabs take one to three weeks to lay their eggs, depending on the “colour of the eggs”.
“If the eggs are yellow in colour, it means that the eggs are still young and would take about three weeks to hatch. If they are dark yellow it would need two weeks to hatch. Grey colour eggs hatch in a week while black eggs take three to five days,” he said.
Currently, the stormy weather has been unfavourable to fishermen, particularly those with small boats due to the strong winds and giant waves which are life threatening.
However, to meet local demand and for export, crab fishing is ongoing, carried out by sea fishermen who are able to beat the odds.
Large quantities of Kdam Ses are being caught where the supply in Kampot province alone is able to hit two tonnes a day.
Fisherman in Roluos village, Boeung Touk commune, Bokor town, Kong Choy, 56, said fishermen who dare to take the risk of catching crabs during the rainy season can catch “a lot of crabs” and sell them at a high price.
“During this season, not many fishermen go out to catch crabs because they are afraid of strong winds and big waves that can overturn their boats. But those who are brave can return with a good haul and sell them between 30,000 to 60,000 riel per kilogramme, depending on the crab’s size,” Choy told The Post.
Crab vendor Kem Da, 51, at Kandal Port, which is a mere 300m from Kampot provincial hall, said since the establishment of the crab bank, the supply of Kdam Ses throughout the province has been adequate.
Any excess is sold to crab wholesalers in other provinces, she told The Post.
“Despite the rainy season, which has made it hard for some fishermen to go fishing far away, we still have enough supply,” Da said.
Kampot FiA Cantonment director Sar Sorin pointed out that there are eight fishing communities in the province with established crab banks.
Every year, more than 1,000kg of female crabs with eggs, or 10,000 animals, are collected by the community for release into the protected area.
“The quantity is not small if we calculate the number of eggs and survival rate. We should have not less than 300 million crabs a year which are allowed to live naturally in the seagrass and coral protected areas in the province,” he told The Post.
Van Srey Eng, a seafood vendor in O’Chrov commune, Sihanoukville province’s Prey Nop district, said the demand for crabs has doubled compared to four or five years ago.
To meet the customer’s needs, some fishermen have allegedly violated the fisheries administration’s ban and agreement with communities not to catch small crabs to sell in the market.
Catching small crabs and female crabs with eggs will reduce crab yields, she said, noting that that is “the biggest disaster”.
Thanks to a 10m by 20m crab pond on the coast of Veal Rinh bay, Van Srey Eng stores small crabs and female crabs with eggs, which she later sells when they are big.
“I also donate some female crabs to the community’s crab banks in Koh Kong island and Veal Rinh to be released into the sea so that they can live naturally. I also keep some for myself to sell to customers when they are big,” she said.
In Koh Kong province, Pheng Cheng, head of Chroy Praos fishing community, said only small crabs are being caught at the moment because most of the fishermen there are afraid to go out due to the dangerous conditions in the sea.
However, those with big boats occasionally go deep-sea fishing near islands where they can catch large quantities of big crabs.
Due to the drop in the catch during rainy seasons, the supply of Kdam Ses in Koh Kong province are not always sufficient.
Owing to that, Koh Kong locals prefer to consume Kdam Thmor (Scylla serrata) as they are plentiful and cheaper.
“From November to June though, they will shift their preference to Kdam Ses, especially in the dry season, because it has lots of meat and fat,” Pheng said.