Mud crabs are an important species in New Ireland, where they feature on shirts, lap-laps (a loose overlapping skirt common in the Pacific). Not only do mud crabs symbolise the Province but they are also an important food source and income, particularly for women who harvest the species in mangrove areas. WCS PNG initially became involved with the management of the species due to concerns about overharvesting and the capture of undersize and reproducing crabs.
In New Ireland the mud crab is a delicacy and it fetches a high price at the local market. Women are the main harvesters of this species and they come from nearby islands to sell their catch at the main markets in town. This provides an important income for women in New Ireland, who otherwise have little access to cash. This income is typically used to meet the basic household needs of the family. Because of the growing household demands, the women frequently take undersized crabs and berried crabs (females with eggs), meaning they are taking the stock that would normally repopulate the area. The mangrove habitat is also under threat itself. Mangrove trees are increasingly cut for building materials and firewood, resulting in coastal erosion, and the destruction of fish spawning grounds and mud crab habitat.
WCS PNG recognises that the unsustainable harvesting of mud crabs is hurting the lives of families that depend upon the sale of the animal. But simply researching the ecology of mud crabs and options for their sustainable management is not enough. To this end we have partnered with local communities to implement resource management plans to regulate the harvest and change the future of this resource.