Searching for rock crabs along the southwestern seaboard

May 23, 2023 - 11:15
The term "rock crabs" is not only the name but also a characteristic of a crab species living in this sea
Fishermen in a boat full of traps, ready to harvest rock crabs. — Photos

Đoàn Xá

KIÊN GIANG — While many people are familiar with and can easily find commercial crab species, rock crabs are more uncommon and always caught in the wild, the Đại Đoàn Kết (Great Unity) newspaper reported.

However, the fact that rock crab harvesting offers a comparatively high source of income is another reason why many people choose this line of work in southwestern coastal areas such as Kiên Giang, Cà Mau and Bạc Liêu.

Hoành removes boxtraps in Hòn Tre.

A treat from the islands

According to Trần Văn Hoành, 63, a long-time crab harvester living in Hòn Tre, rock crabs are very prevalent in the region.

“The harvesting season starts from May and June when the rain starts," said Hoành. "However, the crabs harvested in August and June are the most delicious because that's when they're fully grown and ready to shred their shells."

"Hòn Tre Island's rock crabs are beloved because of their large, plumpy, and delicious meat. As the crabs are not fully grown, we can only harvest five - six kilogrammes nowadays. The prices are VNĐ70,000 (US$3) per kilograme if you buy them here, but VNĐ100,000 ($4.30) in Rạch Giá."

According to Hoành, the term "rock crabs" is not only the name but also a characteristic of a crab species living in this sea. Only during the rainy season do they venture outside in search of food. Rock crabs only live in deep seafloor crevices and caves.

Hoành said there are many ways to hunt for this particular species, such as setting traps, diving or hunting with nets. Setting traps is the most popular method with Hòn Tre fishermen, with box traps being the most popular.

Liên, 31 and her husband moved from Hòn Đất, Kiên Giang, to Hòn Tre Island to make a living since the pandemic and have since bonded to the job of crab harvesting.

"My husband and I were factory workers, but soon quit our jobs due to the pandemic," said Liên. "When we went out and met a relative in Hòn Tre, we saw the easier life here and decided to stay."

"Rock crabs are easy to sell, and traders come here every day on speedboats to purchase them," Liên added. "Although they are not big as aquacultured crabs, the taste is far better."

According to Liên, methods of crab harvesting have their own drawbacks. Every trap costs VNĐ60,000 ($2.5), and traps must be replaced every two years due to damages caused by crabs.

Fishermen can also capture the crabs by diving, but not many are experienced divers, which can pose dangers.

Liên and her husband in the boat, removing box traps.

A breadwinning way

The southwest coastal region of Việt Nam stretches approximately 300km along the coastline, from the tip of Cà Mau running westward to Hà Tiên, characterised by its numerous islands near the shores and river mouths.

In recent years, fishing activities, particularly offshore fishing, have become increasingly challenging due to high costs. Therefore, for poor fishermen living on islands near the coast and in river estuaries, hunting for rock crabs or other valuable seafood has become a lifeline for many.

With daily incomes up to VNĐ500,000 ($21.30), hunting for rock crabs has become a preferred profession for many people.

Based on observations, it is not only fishermen from Hòn Tre but also many fishermen from other areas such as Hòn Đất, Kiên Lương (Kiên Giang), U Minh, Ngọc Hiển, and Trần Văn Thời (Cà Mau) who are harvesting for rock crabs.

While island fishermen hunt for rock crabs among rocky cliffs, inland fishermen search for them in coastal areas and along riverbanks.

Crabs often gather in areas with mangrove roots or muddy areas.

Although the locations may differ, the catching of rock crabs remains mostly unchanged, using baited traps to lure the crabs.

The coastal mangrove forests in U Minh Thượng and U Minh Hạ are a treasure trove for harvesters. Compared to crabs living in caves or rocky areas on the seafloor, crabs found in the mangrove forests are larger and of higher economic value.

However, hunting for rock crabs in the coastal forests is more challenging and laborious, primarily relying on manual methods rather than traps on the islands.

Hai Tèo, 51, a crab trader in Ba Hòn, Kiên Giang Province's Kiên Lương District, shared that he buys over a hundred kilogrammes of rock crabs every day.

"Many fishermen from Bình An and Ba Hòn bring crabs to my collection point to sell," said Tèo. "There aren't as many crabs this season, but in about a month, I can buy up to 200kg of crabs per day.

"Many restaurants in Rạch Giá, Cần Thơ, and HCM City also place orders. There has been a demand for crab claws only recently, so I have to process and package them separately for customers. As for the crab bodies, I sell them to shrimp farmers or to those who use them as ingredients for crab feed or for making crab paste. Stone crab paste is tastier than mud crab paste."

Being a popular local speciality, rock crabs from the coastal regions of the southwestern part of the country have become a favoured delicacy among locals and tourists.

Moreover, the species has provided additional livelihoods for many impoverished coastal residents, closely tied to their homeland and the sea. — VNS