Shrimp production and export have decreased in the country. Most of the shrimp processing plants are idle. Once referred to as the local 'white gold' industry, shrimp production is in dire straits. However, scientists of BFRI (Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute) have kindled new hope.
Crab production and export is seeing the fastest growth among the country's marine resources. But this industry had been dependent on nature till now. The young crabs were collected from rivers along the coast and the Bay of Bengal and then raised in enclosures. This posed as a risk of extinction for the crabs. BFRI researchers have invented artificial reproduction methods for crabs.
The very small mud crabs (scylla serrata), the variety that Bangladesh exports the most, can now be produced at hatcheries due to this method of reproduction. The research started at the saltwater centre of BFRI in Paikgachha, Khulna in 2015. Senior scientist MD Latiful Islam and scientist Mamun Siddiqui were on the researchers’ team. After six long years of research, they finally met with success in January.
The big zoeas (young crabs) generally devour the small ones. This was the hardest challenge for artificial reproduction. If at least five per cent of the eggs laid by an adult crab survive, production in hatcheries becomes successful. Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and Australia have been successful in this. The international market of crabs is dominated by these countries too.
"At least 5 per cent of the zoeas have been surviving under our research. We've prepared a manual in Bangla for the commercial crab cultivators of our country," said Md. Latiful Islam adding, "We're ready to cooperate with the entrepreneurs who want to initiate crab hatcheries here."
According to the scientists and researchers of the BFRI, the mud crabs live along the mangrove and coastal areas. They go to the seas to lay eggs. Now, zoeas are collected from natural sources and cultivated in Satkhira, Khulna, Bagerhat.
There is much demand for mud crabs in Malaysia, Singapore, China, Japan, Hong Kong and Korea. Bangladesh exports crabs to these countries on a small scale. According to the EPB (Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh), Bangladesh exported crabs worth around Tk 1.73b in the fiscal 2017-18 and around Tk 3.1 billion in 2018-19.
If the crabs are thus cultivated artificially at hatcheries, then there would be less pressure on the natural resources and it would be easier to cultivate crabs in the country, Yahia Mahmud, director general of Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, said.
The increased export of crabs contributed to the local economy for the last few years. Artificial reproduction would decrease the pressure on the natural sources and biodiversity will be safe too. This can emerge as an alternative export industry too, said Zahidur Rahman Chowdhury, director of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries at Chittagong University.