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June 7, 2018

Fishermen fear for survival as heat wave continues to kill crabs

Business

June 7, 2018

HYDERABAD: The rising temperature touching 42-46 Celsius along the 350 kilometres long Sindh coast has affected the survival and development of precious mud crabs.

Reports reveal that the extreme heat along the coastline, besides making human life miserable is also affecting marine life, and resulting in crab deaths on the islands.

Crabs in muddy areas are more vulnerable to heat nowadays. These marine species move to natural burrows to avoid scorching heat, but due to the harsh weather they are fighting the war of survival.

It has been found recently that the mud crabs often die before reaching the burrows. Some reports show that the community youth catch the crabs alive by using traditional tools, but cannot keep them alive as they die instantly in baskets and bags because of the harsh weather.

It is the only marine species that is sold alive locally and in urban markets. Hence traders and workers themselves are unable to understand the phenomenon and attribute it to the rising temperate on land and the warming of the ocean.

Gulab Shah, a community activist from Keti Bunder holds marine heat waves responsible for the crab deaths. Earlier, the temperature was not as high as 46 Celsius on the coast, but now the heat has also turned the ocean warm, especially in muddy areas, which home many species, including crabs.

“Marine heat waves may become more common in coming years,” he said.

The weather phenomenon has also affected routine catch as it has been declining day after day. On traditional commercial crab farms in the coastal areas, farmers use artificial techniques to provide water to the mud, he said. “But they are still facing losses due to this emerging situation, reports reaching here suggest,” he added.

As per routine, Sindh government has declared ban on catching commercial fish species, mostly shrimps, considering it is the breeding season. Following the ban on shrimps, fishermen with bigger boats usually move their vessels to the open sea for fishing, while many wanting to avoid the rough seas in this season move to low waters for catch.

Still, hundreds sit idle at home, or resort to crabbing. A large number of fishermen travel long distances in muddy areas, mangrove forests, and vegetation fields in search of crabs for livelihoods.

They usually catch crabs and keep them in baskets and bags for selling alive. However, under the current weather conditions, they are observing high mortality rate in crabs under captivity in bags and baskets, causing losses to traders.

Elderly fishermen believe that marine heat waves have become more common and are lasting longer as Pakistan is experiencing only two seasons: winter and summer. The summer season seems longer than winter.

Each person catches at least three to four crabs weighing between 200 grams and 300 grams to earn a little amount daily. During the summer, the price of a live crab ranges from Rs200 to Rs300, depending on the size and health of the catch.

The prices go up Rs500-Rs1,000 per item in winter, as crabs are consumed more in that season.

Kharo Chhan and Keti Bunder jetties, the main markets of crabs receive the catch on a daily basis. However, the community activists estimate that the emerging situation has disturbed the traditional business at the jetties.

There is a supply chain of these marine products in each season. Mud crabs are considered among the most valuable crab species in the world, with the bulk of their commercial production marketed live.

In the season, mostly in January and February, a 300 gram crab is valued at Rs300 to Rs1,000. Sometimes in the season, farmers sell crabs at Rs500-Rs2,500 in the urban market, earning better livelihoods.

The months of May, June and July always create problems for the coastal communities, especially those residing at isolated islands, who depend on crabbing during the ‘fishing ban’.

There are around 7,000 fishing vessels of all sizes, employing a large number of crew members, residing at Keti Bunder, Kharo Chhan, Shah Bunder, Jati, Sakro, Bhanbhor, Gharo and other fishing zones, who are facing vulnerability. Around three million workers depend on fishing along the coast, river and other fresh water bodies.

Prohibition on catching shrimps lasts till the end of July and fishermen resume activities in August. However, the fishing community believes that the rough season following monsoon rains continues till September, forcing them to stay idle for four months.

The coastal communities are faced with multiple challenges including rising sea level due to receding river water, heat waves, and lack of clean drinking water.

They also cry out against the decline in routine catch, as many boats return without or little catch, with boat owners unable to bear the cost of their crews’ rations and fuel for the vessel.

Fishing is a major sector employing a large number of people after agriculture. But it seems this sector has less priority for policy makers, who should announce incentives for workers facing hardships due to natural and manmade disasters.