Chinese Red Swimming Crab

Chinese Red Swimming Crab

Global Collaboration Working Locally

Strong demand and a lack of effective management has led to declining resources of red swimming crab (RSC) in China’s Fujian province. To address declining landings and few crabs of legal size reaching processors, a group of stakeholders have come together to establish a Fishery Improvement Project.

Fujian province is the leading fishing region for a red swimming crab species group (RSC) comprised of red swimming crab (Monomia haanii) and three-spot, or red-spot, swimming crab (Portunus sanguinolentus) which inhabit sandy, rocky bottoms in depths of between 10 and 100 metres. Around 40,000 tonnes of RSC are landed and processed annually in Zhangzhou.

Caught off the south of Fujian province on the Minnan-Taiwan Bank fishing grounds, RSC harvest quantity is higher between August and November with a peak in October and lowest in May. Primary gear types are single vessel bottom trawls and crab pots or traps. Each of these can catch around 2.5 to 10kg of crabs.

Demersal trawling accounts for the bulk of red swimming crab landings. Image: QMCS/O2

‘The commercial importance of RSC has a history of less than 30 years,’ explained Songlin Wang, founder of Tao Ran Environmental Science and Technology Co. Ltd (Tao Ran), a Chinese company working on local fisheries sustainability projects in China.

‘Until the late 1990s, RSC wasn’t a target species due to its relatively smaller size, but from the late 1990s to early 2000s, US and Chinese seafood industry entrepreneurs established a supply chain connecting Fujian Zhangzhou fishers with US buyers and consumers of crab meat. RSC once fuelled the development of the local economy. Before the early 1990s, there were no RSC processors in Zhangzhou, but in 2010, 14 processors specialised in the species (cooking and peeling RSC to produce canned meat) and this number rose to 28 in 2015. Today, Zhangzhou’s RSC fishing and processing industry sustains the livelihoods of tens of thousands of fishers and fishing workers. Almost all fishers are men, and the dominant majority of processors are women.’

Zhangzhou receives landings of around 40,000 tonnes of red swimming crab every year. Image: QMCS/O2

Increasing demand and a lack of effective management measures has led to declining resources over the years. Since 2012, many processors have noted that large crabs reaching processable size – those with a carapace width of 8cm (the minimum legally harvestable size required by the Fujian Provincial Government) – have been decreasing. It’s estimated that undersized crabs might account for as high as 80% of harvest.

One primary reason is the lack of selectivity of bottom trawl, which still contributes to the bulk of RSC harvest – poor implementation of legally defined size limits and no size or sex harvest limitations have resulted in fewer large crabs, according to Songlin Wang.

Songlin Wang, founder of Tao Ran. Image: QMCS/O

The current lack of other approaches such as science-based stock assessments, minimum harvestable size limits, protection of spawning populations, measures to mitigate negative seafloor impacts, by-catch of endangered, threatened and protected (ETP) marine life and lost and abandoned fishing gear represent a serious risk to the fishery, as little is known about the actual stock status of the target species.

To address these challenges, stakeholders are working towards sustainability through a Fishery Improvement Project (FIP), which consists of stakeholder engagement, scoping, work plan development, launch, implementation and adaptation.

The RSC FIP has brought together partners China and elsewhere, including the US National Fisheries Institute. Image: QMCS/O2

In addition to Ocean Outcomes, participants include environmental firm Tao Ran and the NGO Qingdao Marine Conservation Society, the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) Red Crab Council (a consortium of forward-thinking US crab importing companies), China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance (CAPPMA) and Zhangzhou Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Alliance (ZAPPMA).

The objective is to transition to science-based catch management to increase the abundance, harvest size and sustainable yield of RSC in Zhangzhou. Annual stakeholder workshops review progress, update plans and ensure that key partners’ project commitments are discussed and reinforced. An initial five-year fishery improvement work plan is also being developed.

A lack of demersal trawl selectivity is a key concern. Image: QMCS/O2

‘The project brings together participants from both ends of the supply chain, from producers in China to US importers (NFI), in addition to scientific expertise (Chinese academics, Ocean Outcomes) and Chinese civil society organisations, to develop a robust, watertight project,’ said Perry Broderick, communications and systems director at Ocean Outcomes.

‘There are routine site visits for sampling and monitoring. A number of leading fishers have been working closely with FIP implementers by offering fisheries-relevant information and insights on how to improve management measures within the Chinese context.’