Zambo giant mud crab to be propagated in Mindoro

A GIANT Zamboanga-native mud crab is aimed to be massively propagated under a P1.5 million community farmers’ program in Oriental Mindoro which will potentially raise the country’s $60 million mud crab export.

After a year of field trial, a Community-based Participatory Action Research (CPAR) for the giant mud crab achieved a successful survival program in Oriental Mindoro.

The crabs grew at a weight 350 grams per piece or three pieces in a kilo, making it attractive for the export market.

A highly-esteemed gourmet seafood, mud crabs– especially females that have fat or “aligue”– are exported by the Philippines to Hongkong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, China, and Japan.

The program is being advanced to a second phase. It will involve natural breeding of the giant mud crab through cross-breeding with native mud crabs in Oriental Mindoro in order to assure their long-term survival and increased population.

The CPAR program was derived from the Bureau of Agricultural Research’s (BAR) system where participation of the community is crucial to its success as part of government’s poverty reduction and livelihood objectives.

“BAR had a CPAR project in Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro. We now have community participation also here in Oriental Mindoro,” said Roberto R. Abrera, manager of the Regional Fisheries Research and Development Center-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR Region IV-B MIMAROPA).

“We’re looking at stocking of gravid crabs in mangrove areas, adopting the sea ranching concept from the harvest we have in January (which will complete Phase 1).”

The cross breeding between the giant mud crabs from Zamboanga Sibugay and the native crab of Mindoro is necessary in order to ensure sustainability in a full life cycle production, according to Daisy F. Ladra, aquaculturist, a BFAR mud crab specialist.

Crabs should produce seedstocks in order to complete the life cycle. This should be repeated many times over which is a usual process in a breeding program that aims to start an aquaculture industry.

“The purpose of CPAR is to demonstrate to the community its viability. There should be natural breeding which will enable fishpond operators to sustain their mudcrab production,” said Ladra.

Aside from the mud crab project, Abrera said milkfish is also a forthcoming fish commodity that is hoped to become an important food business in Mindoro under a similar CPAR program.

“We will seek approval from BAR maybe for P1 million for another CPAR program which is for small pond operators of half a hectare to one hectare where they will venture on bangus fry to fingerling production. That can then be sold to supply the requirement of bangus growers until marketable size. It will build capability of farmers and raise livelihood for them,” he said.

Since BAR has adopted a community-based approach to research through CPAR, government has helped more farmers to see exactly for themselves the difference in their income from adopting a technology, according to BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.

“CPAR is a proven way for farmers in poverty-stricken areas to become aware of new techniques in growing crops and fishery products. They themselves become convinced on adopting a technology because they are part of the program to change their lives,” said Director Eleazar.

The CPAR program in Oriental Mindoro was inspired by the success of a 93-hectare CPAR program in Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro. The Santacati Small Fishpond Farmers Multi-purpose Cooperative now grow milkfish and crab in a formerly unproductive area .

Partnering in the mud crab project are some 100 members of the Farmers Organization for the Rural Upliftment of Mindoro (FORUM). Members’ contribution to the project is the fishpond and labor equity, while government provides technical assistance and inputs (crablets and feeds).

The project cooperators are from Bongabong and nearby towns in Oriental Mindoro. The livelihood program of FORUM can become big since it also involves crops, livestock, fisheries, and environmental projects, among others.

Mud crab income

The country produced 15,730 metric tons of mud crab in 2011. Mud crabs can yield 1,200 kilos per hectare per cropping of five months. At P400 per kilo, it can give an additional income to farmers of P480,000 per cropping or P960,000 for two croppings a year.

Environment-friendly crab growing

Growing mud crabs is an environment-friendly way to produce food. Fishponds in mangroves which are of brackishwater (freshwater and sea water combination) are tapped as grow-out area.

Crabs here do not need manufactured feeds. There are natural feeds–chopped trash fish, animal hide, and snails.

Oriental Mindoro Congressman Reynaldo V. Umali is ever supportive to fisheries and agricultural development. Last December 12, 2012, massive mangrove planting took place in the province after the Unified Tree of Life (UTOL) Program, an advocacy of Governor Alfonso V. Umali, Jr. and Congressman Umali was launched.

UTOL aims to plant 12 millions trees from the highlands to the coastal areas. Through the technical assistance of BFAR, Congressman Umali has put up his own mangrove nursery where almost 50,000 mangrove seedlings are already produced and planted to denuded mangrove areas.

The activity will expand and sustain mangrove seedling production.

“We want to regenerate crab population in the mangrove area.. Once the trees are planted, more crabs can be raised,” said Abrera.

Researchers noted that there are areas in Mindoro Island that are natural spawning ground for crabs. This makes the province high potential for long term crab industry growth.

Intensifying fish production

Crab growing is just a component of the CPAR program in Mindoro. There is also a program to grow milkfish , mullet, siganid, and spadefish, and possibly other organic fish species.

“The program is quite successful, and we want to diversify to other species since Bongabong is being promoted to be the organic capital of Oriental Mindoro. Siganid for example is a herbivore,” said Abrera.

These fishes that may rely mainly on “lumot” and “lab-lab” as feeds, making them considered as organically grown.

Agriculture planners have conceptualized fishery as a major program in Oriental Mindoro in order to reduce its dependence on other islands for fishery supply.

While there is a time where harvest is plenty, the fish ponds become empty during bangus fry off-season. Bangus fingerlings have to be sourced from the outside.

Oriental Mindoro should intensify food production in order to meet the demand for its tourism sector as it hosts top Philippine tourist destination Puerto Galera.

Unfortunately, there is also no known fish processing industry in Mindoro.

“There is no boneless bangus here. Boneless bangus still come from the outside,”said Abrera.

Top livelihood generating industry

Growing mud crabs and other fish species is envisioned to be a major agriculture program since the Philippines is among world’s biggest fishery producers. In 2006, it ranked sixth among global producers with total production of 5.08 million MT of fishes, crustaceans (which includes mud crabs), and mollusks (shells).

The fishery sector employs 1.614 million fishing operators nationwide of which 1.371 million are small municipal fishers.

Closing life cycle

A second phase of the project is eyed in order to move from just growth and survival to developing a sustainable aquaculture industry. “You have to complete the life cycle. Then you could say you had a successful introduction. Tilapia is not endemic in the Philippines. It was just introduced here,” said Ladra.

This is the way to go since importing seedstocks from other places, from Mindanao in this case, may cause introduction of disease, such as the white spot syndrome virus, in the local species.

Since they come from the wild and not from a hatchery, the crablets released in Mindoro had different sizes. Knife fish abundant in Laguna Lake was used to feed the crablets.

Giant crabs well comply with a government fishery order mandating that only crabs 200 grams and above should be harvested for export. This ensures quality of the export product and also assures that the crabs are sexually mature and are able to lay more eggs since the bigger the size, the more eggs it is capable of producing.

Thanks to MNLF

The giant crabs were obtained by BFAR through generous collaborators in Mindanao particularly Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF.

“These were compliments of MNLF. Rebels allowed us through our contacts to collect crablets for our experiments,” said Ladra.

Zamboanga also offered the cheapest rate of P15 to P17 per piece. In Surigao where giant crabs also grow, this costs P20 to P21. The giant crabs are also found in Lanao del Norte, Capiz, and Misamis Occidental.

The crabs have distinct large size compared to other species, bringing bigger profit. The crab weight just started at 55 to 65 grams. But they grow at a fast pace of 2.3 grams per day. At some six months, that is 350 grams or more than one kilo for three pieces.

Close to 5,000 pieces has been stocked at Oriental Mindoro. Ideal stocking rate is 5,000 pieces per hectare. Mortality reached to 778 pieces, but these were replaced with thin crabs (blue crabs) for fattening. Thin crabs fatten for harvest in around one month.

A hatchery has already been put up in Mindoro. It is under a tie-up of BFAR with the former MINSCAT (Mindoro State College of Agriculture and Technology —which is now a state university) for a multi-purpose hatchery. BFAR also has a fry bank where stocks of milkfish, tilapia, and other fish species are stored.

“We need to have breeder stocks lay eggs in order to establish a population. Although there’s a

natural population of mud crab in Mindoro, it’s not enough to start an industry,” said Ladra.

Food safety

In order to protect quality of export goods, food safety will also be a major consideration in the project.

The project aims to observe best aquaculture practices. Some best practices include construction of fence made of bamboo in a mud crab pond. This though requires investment.

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