Scylla serrata is the common mudcrab occurring in the estuarine and mangrove areas and is commonly called as “red crab” and it prefers to live in low saline waters. Male crabs of S. serrata grow to 700 to 800 gm at the maximum The export size of the crab is 500 g and above for males and 250 g and above for females.
Crab fattening is widely practiced in Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Gravid female mud crabs with full orange-red egg masses are in great demand in seafood restaurants of South East Asian countries. Due to its high price, people started to hold immature female crabs in some kind of enclosures and fed them until the gonads developed and filled the mantle cavity. This is how crab “fattening” spread, initially, throughout South East Asian countries. Subsequently, the practice of holding post-moult “water” crab of market size, in some enclosures, for short period of time and feeding them until they completely “flesh out” for getting quick returns also became popular. Cages, pens and small ponds with net are being used for holding crabs for a short period of 3-4 weeks.
The mud crab resource is a natural bounty for our country, which has a potential to change the socio-economic status of the coastal communities. The coastal poor fishermen and educated unemployed youths should realize this fact and take up crab culture or fattening in eco-friendly way to raise their economic status.
This is the process of stocking juvenile crabs (10 g to 250 g) and allowing them to moult and grow. Harvest is done after 3-8 months or once the crab reaches 400 g to 500 g size. Mud crab fattening is the most suitable method for small-scale aquaculture because:
* Turnover is fast, hence, the period between investment and returns is short. * Fattened crabs can be stocked at higher densities (15 crabs/sq m) compared to grow-out systems (1 crab/sq m) as no molting occurs and therefore losses due to cannibalism are dramatically reduced. * Short production time reduces the risk of losing crabs to disease, thus, rendering a higher survival rate for fattening (>90%) compared to grow-out systems (40%).
Different Methods of Crab Culture
Four methods of oyster culture are practiced in the Philippines; broadcast (sabong), stake (tulos), lattice and hanging (bitin, sampayan, horizontal, and tray) methods.
Pond Culture. Pond size of ½ to 1 acre is most suitable for crab culture. However, large size ponds of more than one acre can also be used for this purpose. Sandy soils with a mixture of 50% clay are ideal for culture of these crabs. A water inlet system and an outlet system to drain out water during water exchange should be constructed as in the case of shrimps. The pond should be constructed in such a way that it should hold 3 ½ to 4 feet of water towards the inlet and 4 ½ to 5 feet towards the outlet. A flow through mechanism of water exchange should be there in order to remove any left over organic food material and also to efficiently remove excretory material. A fencing of nylon net used for fishing can be placed on the dike to prevent the escape of the crabs during nighttime. In addition, about 1000 numbers of stone ware, pipes of 6 inch diameter and 1 ½ feet length, worn- out tyres, etc., should be kept at the bottom of the pond through out the dike. The nylon screen fencing should be supported with split bamboos of 1.5-meter height around the pond periphery for preventing the escape of the crabs from climbing over the bunds. The maximum stocking density should be 1crab per sq. meter.
Pen Culture in Ponds. Several units of pens of 4 X 4 X 2.5 m could be made inside the ponds using bamboo strips which are driven 1-1.5 m deep into the soil to prevent the escape of the crabs by burrowing. The pens could be made nearer to the dykes for easy stocking and monitoring.
Pond Culture in Mangrove Areas. The ponds could be constructed as described above around the mangrove plants. But a maximum pond area of 100 Sq. meters is suitable for this type of culture. A canal of 1 m wide and 0.5 m deep, in which water will be available even during low tide, should be dug around the edge of the pond. The center of the pond forms a raised platform with mangrove vegetation, which the crabs would use as a refuge during low tide. Water exchange could be tidally controlled. Polythene nettings could be used to prevent the escape of the crabs. Feeding depends on the availability of organisms namely low-value fishes, mangrove snails, clams, mussels, etc.
Pen Culture in Mangrove Areas. The pens could be constructed using the locally available bamboo splits or arecanut logs or cane. These strips should be driven 1-1.5 m deep into the soil to keep the crabs inside and the potential predators outside. The manageable area of the pen could be 100 to 150Sq. m. With in the pen, a ditch of about 0.3 to 0.9 m wide and 0.3 m deep should be dug. Mangrove trees in the center of the pen provide shade for the crabs. Roughly 1000 to1500 crabs of 100 g each could be stocked per pen. The stocking should be continuous. The crab could be fed once a day during high tide with low-cost fishes, mussels, clams, snails, etc. The crabs could be harvested after 4 – 7 months. The crabs could be selectively harvested after they reach 400g or more. Although this system is eco-friendly, survival rate of only 47 to 50 % could be expected. The loss could be mainly due to cannibalism, and escape of crabs. Lower stocking density is suggested to be a remedy for the low survival rate.
Cage Culture (suspended or fixed type)
Cage design. Crab fattening can be carried out in Cell-type Cane Cages of 1m (L) X 1m (W) X 20 cm(H) size, which can be partitioned into nine equal compartments. Each of these cages should be provided with a lid to prevent the escape of crabs. A gap of 5 mm is to be provided between the canes at the top and 2.5 cm at the sides of the cages to enable free movement of water through the cages. But, no gap should be provided at the bottom to enable easy movement of the crabs.
Stocking and feeding in cages. One crab should be placed in each compartment of the cages. In this method of fattening, higher number of crabs can be fattened in a square meter area, i.e. 9 crabs / m2. Based on the local availability, different types of feeds such as trash fish, mussel, chicken waste, clams etc. can be given to the crabs.
Deployment of cages. These cages can either be suspended from a raft deployed in bays or backwaters or mangrove areas. These cages could also be made as a fixed type in ponds, mangrove areas or coastal regions of the bays. The cages could be made without cells inside. But the survival would reduce in this method due to cannibalism.
* Clean the cages as frequently as possible using brushes enabling free movement of water inside. * If nails are used in the cages, use only the anodized MS/ copper / SS nails for increased longevity of cages in seawater. * Repair the damages in the cages immediately when it happens. * Deploy the cages where there is mild water current. * If algal growth is found on the crabs, clean them using a brush.
Managing the Crab Farm
Once decided on the farming method and when the oyster spats have settled
Condition ponds/pens before stocking mudcrabs. Plant Gracilaria or other macrophytes to serve as shelter for crabs. Stock crabs when luxurious growth of macrophytes is observed.
To insure high survival of crab juveniles for grow-out culture while in transport, provide transport containers with fronds of mangroves. Remove chilepeds of crabs weighing less than 30g. Do not remove chilepeds of crabs weighing more than 30g but tie them firmly to prevent antagonistic behavior during transport. Frequently pour seawater into containers while in transport to keep crabs moist.
Stock marketable size lean crabs for fattening culture at 2.0 crabs per sq m. Stock together male and female but remove movable part of the claw and apply Povidone-iodine (betadine) to the injured part to prevent infection. Acclimate before releasing them in ponds/pen.
Stock crab juveniles (7-11g or 16-20g) at 1.5 per sq m for pond grow-out culture and 2.0 per sq m for pen (mangroves). Stock males separately from females. Stock monospecies, more or less monosize crabs. Acclimate to pond/pen water temperature and salinity before releasing them.
Feed crabs with frozen or freshtrash fishor a mixed diet of 75% brown mussel meat and 25% trash fish. Feed grow-out culture crabs at 10% of the crab biomass per day when carapace length is less than 6cm and 5% when carapace length is 6cm or more. Feed fattening culture crabs at 10% of the crab biomass per day through out the culture period. Feed crabs in the grow-out or fattening culture twice per day: 60% of the daily ration at 5:00 PM and 40% at 7:00 PM.
Select and remove marketable size and fat crabs several times over the grow-out culture period: 150g or more female and 200g or more for male pulang alimango; 350g or more for female and 400g or more for male giant crabs.
Harvest fat crabs from fattening culture 20 days after stocking. Not all crabs fatten at the same time but expect to harvest about 50% fat crabs of your total stock. Replace harvested fat crabs with lean ones but remove the movable claw, disinfect, and acclimate them before releasing in ponds/pens. Harvest and replace every 10 days thereafter; this time you can harvest fat crabs of about 30% of your total stock. You can maintain this cycle for five months.
Harvesting is done with different kinds of trap like the bamboo cage, lift net, scissors net, fish corrals and gill nets. Crabs are ready for the harvest and marketing when the piece or two reaches up to a kilo. They are sold alive and can stay out of the water even for a week. They should, however, be kept in damp containers and periodic moistening is important. Feed them with trash fish and other kitchen refuse.
Handling adult crabs in captivity are tied with dried nipa strings. Both pincers are tied close to the abdominal cavity to prevent crawling. When transported, proper handling is important. Place them in baskets or tiklis to avoid getting trampled or crushed.
Mud Crab Fattening Practices
Mud crab fattening in fish ponds
In New Washington, Aklan. mud crab fattening activities were initiated by fish pond owners using a series of crude trial and error methods. Small undeveloped ponds measuring 500 m2 were utilized for fattening. Bamboo or plastic polyethelene netting was used as fencing material.
The ponds were prepared in similar fashion to milkfish and prawn ponds. After fertilization, crab weighing 150-200 g were stocked during the early mornings or late afternoons. The stocking rate was 2-3 crab/m‘ To prevent cannibalism and fighting amongst themselves, the tips of their pincers were cut off. Sometimes hollow blocks or old cans were placed at the pond bottom to serve as hiding areas for the crab.
The crab were fed three times a day at a rate of 5-8 per cent of bodyweight. Water was changed as often as possible to prevent fouling. The crab were fattened for 10-15 days and a growth increment of 110g/crab was achieved. After 15 days, the crab were harvested using crab liftnets. Mud crab fattening in square pens
Panquil Bay in Mindanao is another mud crab producing region where mud crab fattening is widely practiced. About 20 t of exportable mud crab are shipped every month from this area to Cebu or Manila.
Mud crab fattening is widely practiced here because of financial assistance under the LEADBuklod Yaman Project of the Department of Agriculture. Assistance has been granted to four or five fishermen’s associations in this area. Each association has a membership of 25 fishermen.
The method of fattening in Panquil Bay differs from elsewhere. Instead of earthen ponds, square pens are used. These 2 x 2 x 1.5m pens, made with bamboo poles, are erected in the muddy, intertidal areas near the fishermen’s houses. In order to facilitate entry, exit and feeding, especially during high tides. there is a catwalk set up near the pens.
Crab weighing 150-300 g are fattened over 15-8-day periods. Chopped trash fish is given at 10 per cent bodyweight as feed twice daily. Crab lift nets are used to harvest the mud crab.
In Basilan Province mud crab for fattening are penned underneath the homes of the Muslim fisherfolk. These houses are often constructed on stilts and the space underneath is fenced from top to bottom with chicken wire and discarded netting. There is an opening in the floor of the house through which trash fish. kitchen refuse and fruit peelings are dropped as feed. When the crab have attained the desired weight they are harvested.
Mud crab fattening in bamboo cages
Mud crab fattening in bamboo cages is one of the technology verification studies tried out by Joey and Sylvia de la Cruz in Barangay Napapao, Ponteverdra Capiz. This project was conducted to provide a standard culture method for fattening crab:
Mud crab grow best in brackishwater, such as tidal flats, estuarine areas, bays and lagoons. Sheltered bays and coves are selected to protect the bamboo cages from strong winds and waves during adverse weather conditions. The water at such sites should be 0.5-lm deep. Areas with low salinity should be preferred, as saline water inhibits the growth of mud crab. Areas with sufficient crab for fattening as well as trash fish for feed should be considered. The area should also be accessible to the growers and target markets.
A modified bamboo cage (140 x 70 x 25 cm) subdivided into 18 compartments is fixed firmly by its comers to the substratum to prevent it from being washed away during inclement weather. The compartments are covered with 140 x 70 cm split bamboo. Holes are provided in the compartment covers for feeding.
One advantage of using bamboo cages is that selective harvesting can be done. If the desired weight has not been attained, the crab could easily be returned to their compartments and fattened further.
About 18 crab can be stocked per unit. Stocking is done during the early morning or late in the afternoon. In Capiz, 185 crab, each of average weight 175 g. were stocked. The weight increase after 15 days was I 10 g.
Feed and Feeding
Mud crab are fed twice a day at 5 per cent bodyweight for 10-15 days. Feeds may be trash fish, soft-shelled snails, kitchen leftovers, mussel meat, animal entrails or almost any other kind of food.
Periodic checks should be made during the culture period. Drifting seaweed, logs and other debris should be removed to facilitate easy circulation of water and prevent damage to the cages. After use, the crab cages should be lifted periodically and dried.
Harvest and Handling
After the fattening period, mud crab can be harvested individually by hand. The crab are then bound with straw or string to enable easy handling. A skilled laborer is hired to bind the pincers of the crab. Exposure of the crab to sun and wind should be avoided, as this may lead to weakening and eventual death.
For more information, contact:
1. SEAFDEC Aquaculture Department. Tigbauan, Iloilo, Philippines
2. BFAR-FIDSD. 2/F PCA Annex Bldg., Diliman, Quezon City