26 December 2009

Baiting the Mud Crab

Quezon sinantol with a claw from a mangrove crab.

Mangroves are great. Serving as mediators between water and land, they provide for a rich ecosystem and a unique way of life that straddles both surfaces. I live in an area that was once a mangrove system, but now "developed" into something of a peri-urban mess.

The still waters of Infanta.

Everyone's got a boat in the shared garage.

However, in the still waters of brackish Quezon, the mangroves still present the opportunity for a sort of hybrid between farming and wildcrafting-- a set-up where nature puts in much of the energy into a sort of muddy, aquatic forest, and man manages the process.

Bait guy by the tiny dock.

Mud crabs or alimango are cultivated in pens around the nipa groves, with open slats to ensure the flow of water and nutrients.

Their whole life is not with the crab "farmer" though. The "seeds" or young crab are caught around the mangrove using cages with bait. Small fish that have no market value are caught from the river and prepared for attachment to the nylon cage.

With a wastewood chopping board.

Taking a bunch of tiny fish...

... and hacking them to chunks for easier inhalation by hungry mud crabs.

Tying on to the cage.

Tied up and ready to go in the nylon room of eventual captivity.

The cages are submerged and mud crabs collected when they enter. They are transferred to pens and fed "waste" fish of little commercial value, kitchen waste, snails, entrails, and sometimes coconut. After only about 15 days, their price at the market would have increased, as they are heavier and more succulent than their purely wild brethren.

The bamboo cages along the waterway.

The pens look unobtrusive and even beautiful, due to their materials and gentle repetition. Like the methods that employ them, they fit in with their natural setting, and have short feedback loops that can inform of abuse or exploitation.

Though I don't eat crabs, I enjoy thinking about the grace of a system like this. As opposed to the "brute force" of factory farms, which apply so much energy and chemicals in producing an egg-to-drumstick chickens and whatnot, societies that are supported by mature ecosystems like mangroves and forests can "outsource" some of the processes to nature-- reproduction, birth, some feeding, and a lot of the cleaning of the pens.

Children playing Chinese garter by the crab pens.

A few days in captivity is not very taxing on energy systems, human effort, and the animal. To improve on these systems is something local governments should prioritize, instead of declaring them primitive. Likewise, to translate our fascination into workable lessons we can apply in our own lives, and to give communities pride in their ways of life, is something we should all prioritize.

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