A great hunt is underway for the Mudcrabs. Well, it’s not about ‘The Elder Scrolls’, the famous fantasy video game, where ‘Mudcrabs are particularly known for their weakness’. Here, in the Sundarban, the Mudcrabs are known for their ‘export-quality’ flesh.

From the mudflats, creeks, canals and rivulets of Sundarban, Mudcrabs are being hunted in an unprecedented scale, to be exported alive, much to the delight of crustacean loving South East Asians- mainly the Chinese restaurant goers.

The hunters; Sundarban dependent poor communities are struggling hard to cope with disappearing livelihood options in the face of increased salinity and declining crops and brackish water fish stock. Over the last decade this export-oriented and thriving crab fishery emerged as almost a hobson’s choice for them.

Back home this delicious dishes leave the World's largest mangrove ecosystem; to which they are one of the main ecosystem engineers.

Back home this delicious dishes leave the World’s largest mangrove ecosystem; to which they are one of the main ecosystem engineers.

Take Munshiganj for example, an Union under Shyamnagar upazila of Satkhira district. Once a quiet fishing hamlet tucked away on the bank of Kholpetua river of Sundarban, Munshiganj is now one of the busiest crab trade zone in the country. When I first visited the area in 2008, bazars around namely Kolbari, Nowabeki and Harinagar has only six crab buying house operating seasonally. Now, more than thirty depots operates in only Kolbari bazar all year round. Every fine morning of Kolbari will remind you the hustle and bustle of Karwan bazar fish market.

The scenario is more or less same for villages located in Sundarban Impact Zone of Bagerhat and Khulna districts. Crab fishing in the mangrove heartland is spreading so rapidly that loan-givers cum buyers from far north are setting their new business throughout the coastal zone.

Once a quiet fishing hamlet tucked away on the bank of Kholpetua river of Sundarban, Munshiganj is now one of the busiest crab trade zone in the country.

Once a quiet fishing hamlet tucked away on the bank of Kholpetua river of Sundarban, Munshiganj is now one of the busiest crab trade zone in the country.

Poor workers from the north-western regions are migrating seasonally to claim their share of crab harvesting. It’s easy to start now, as the buyers provide boat and gears with a lump some of cash. The newly turned fishers just need to go in with a permit from Forest Department and collect literally whatever they can get.

Satkhira district provides at least thirty percent of total Mudcrab extraction for export. Parulia bazaar is the main crab trade center of the district. On many occasions I’ve talked to leaders of Parulia Crab Processing Traders Association. According to their account, they process seven to nine tonnes of Mudcrab in Parulia.

In every evening on an average of two truckloads of live Mudcrabs leave for Dhaka, where they wait for maximum two days, then hitch a ride on air cargo to be served as delicious dishes in China, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.

The newly turned fishers just need to go in with a permit from Forest Department and collect literally whatever they can get.

The newly turned fishers just need to go in with a permit from Forest Department and collect literally whatever they can get.

But back home this delicious dishes leave the World’s largest mangrove ecosystem; to which they are one of the main ecosystem engineers. In Sundarban they maintain habitats and provide nutrients to other species. If this unsustainable extraction on an unprecedented scale goes on, balance of Sundarban’s ecosystem will collapse.

Ecosystem balance and livelihoods in our coastal zone has been devastated by unsustainable shrimp farming. Now, I fear that we are repeating the same mistake about crabs.

Without an effective management regime, such as quotas, ban seasons and no take zones, current practice will further degrade the mangrove habitats and reduce the potential of healthy coastal and marine economy.

 

Mohammad Arju is a Director of Organization for Social Orientation and Founder of Save Our Sea initiative. He can be reached at arju@saveoursea.social