By Danny O. Calleja
LEGAZPI CITY, 15Aug2013 – “Save our kuto-kuto, langaw-langaw and thumbtacks from smugglers.”
This is the call made by some local officials in Catanduanes, referring to the tiny marine beings which, they say, should be spared from the haul of smugglers that badly hurts the quest of the province to become the country’s crab capital.
Kuto-kuto refers to the smallest size (0.5-0.7 centimeter) of crablet which becomes langaw-langaw as it grows fly-sized, then thumbtacks when it becomes as big as the head of thumbtacks.
Since these varieties of young mud crab species that are abundant in the swampy wild of Catanduanes are ideal starters for grow-out growers and aquaculture operators, local fisher folk have been indiscriminately poaching them and selling to traders that ship them out to buyers in other parts of Bicol.
There is an increasing demand for crabs in both domestic and international markets, especially during peak months like December, that makes supply inadequate and market price increases.
As reported in 2012, market price at its peak ranged from P500 to P650 per kilo for 500 gram crabs—prices that make crab farmers very happy and wish they had more crabs to harvest at that time.
As the Philippines has more than 200,000 hectares of brackishwater ponds, raising crabs in monoculture or in polyculture has a great potential.
This will mean a higher need for crablets for stocking.
At present, there is still enough crablets supply from the wild that can support the needs of grow-out farmers.
The continued collection of crablets, however, results in shortages in the supply — particularly in Catanduanes, which is the major source of crablets in Bicol.
According to a recent report of Catanduanes Tribune, a local weekly, records at the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist show that last year, a total of 399,650 crablets were transported out of the province with the bulk coming from the towns of Viga (188,600), Bagamanoc (114,750), Panganiban (86,000), Bato (9,100) and San Andres (1,200).
There is an ordinance regulating the shipping out of crablets from the province but provincial agriculturist Eli Peña, according to the Tribune, has admitted that there is lack of enforcement due to lack of personnel to monitor the gathering of crablets in the field.
For decades, enterprising Catandunganons, in cahoots with buyers from Luzon and the Visayas, have been into poaching and selling of crablets despite prohibitions on these activities.
Panganiban town mayor Robert Fernandez, in a statement reaching here over the week, said a province-wide ban on the trading and transport of crablets and crab fry outside Catanduanes is the only way to boost local mud crab production and justify efforts to make the province the Crab Capital of the Philippines.
He said the unregulated catching and buying of crablets and crab fry and their transport to crab-growing areas such as Roxas City, Iloilo, Sorsogon and Bulacan has the province unable to develop its own mudcrab production.
While his municipality has adopted mudcrab as its “One-Town, One-Product” project, Fernandez said, the very limited supply of crablet left by poaching and smuggling has been preventing a large-scale crab grow-out production in the locality.
“Either there has to be a ban on the transport of crablets outside the province or the provincial government should return control over these important commodities to town governments,” he stressed.
There is a plan hatched by a private investor of establishing a 52-hectare crab culture pond in his municipality as an expansion of an existing grow-out facility that reportedly exports tons of mudcrab weekly to Malaysia, Singapore and other Asian countries, the mayor said.
“We welcome such investments as it would reinforce the image of Panganiban as the crab capital of the country,” Fernandez said.
Situated on the northern part of Catanduanes, with its eastern part facing the Pacific Ocean, Panganiban is a small, 5th class municipality whose population of about 10,000 based on the 2010 census relies mainly on its marine resources for livelihood.
Catanduanes Governor Araceli Wong has expressed support for the passage of an ordinance banning the transport of crablets and crab fry outside the province in favor of the local crab growing industry.
Only adult crabs weighing 250 grams or more should be allowed to be traded out of the island, Wong said. (PNA)