Ban on harvesting coconut crabs causes hardship in Torba

Vanuatu’s Fisheries Department has imposed a ban on coconut crab harvesting in Torba Province saying over harvesting of the crabs has led to a worrying decline in their population.

The Department says the ban signed by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity states that people must not take, eat, sell or kill coconut crabs in Torba Province. If anyone breaks the ban, he or she will be penalised with a VT50,000 fine.

The Fisheries Department’s Deputy Director for Coastal, Sombert Gereva, says in 2018 the department made an assessment of the coconut crab population in Torba. The assessment showed that the population of coconut crabs which was good for harvesting was small when compared to the young population.

Deputy Director Gereva says coconut crab fishing is a controlled activity under Vanuatu’s Fisheries Act, Number 10, 2014 which sets down rules on how people can harvest and make money from coconut crabs. The rules not only focus on Torba Province but also govern the harvesting of coconut crab in all six provinces.

Mr Gereva says on each island there is a quota of the number of crabs that people are allowed to harvest in a fishing season.

Felix Ngwango, the Principal Compliance Officer from the Fisheries Department, says people in Torba Province especially on the Torres group of islands must comply with the ban and cooperate in a study that will be conducted soon in the province.

He says in Torba there are two license holders that buy crabs and they are entitled to buy 5000 crabs during harvesting season.

Kimstone William, the Community Liaison Officer in Torres, says the people of the area are aware of the ban but some are not happy about it.

He says local people have questioned why the Fisheries Department did not consult the local population before putting the ban in place.

“The Fisheries Department should have come to see us so they understood the real situation on the ground and to consult with community leaders before they came up with the idea of a ban,” Mr William said.

He says coconut crabs are the main source of income for the people on Torres.

He says there are other agricultural sources of income but these industries need to be built up with more assistance from agriculture officers so that new agricultural methods can be introduced to improve farming productivity on Torres.

Mr William says local people are now turning to copra and fish to earn money.

He says however with copra prices very low, “local people know copra will not be a good way to earn income”.

Coconut crab is the worlds’ largest species of hermit crab. While there is a lack of data on the crabs’ international conservation status they are threatened with extinction in some parts of the world. The International Union of Conservation of Nature listed coconut crab as “vulnerable” on its Red List of Threatened Species in 2018.

In Vanuatu, coconut crabs are now locally extinct on Efate and it is the outer islands such as Torres which have been supplying tourist and export demand for the crabs.

 

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