Ucides Occidentalis: A treasure hidden beneath Ecuador’s mangrove mud.
Today we have feature article from Belen Vallejo, from Conservation International in Ecuador, on the red swamp cramp.
Have you ever wondered why this ten-footed crustacean, lives inside the mangrove’s mud? Here´s why. This is a vegetarian specie that feeds with leaves and tiny pieces of organic matter only found in mangrove soil which contains the nutrients they need to grow and breed. Thus these red crabs are classified as “detritivores”, which means this is an animal that recycles nitrogen from organic matter, an essential function for mangrove’s ecology!
The Ucides Occidentalis (scientific name) are exclusively found along the Pacific coast from California to Perú. They are known as “cangrejo rojo” or “guariche” in Ecuador, where this specie has become the most valued treasure for artisanal fisherman’s livelihood.
Red crabs are captured by thrusting one’s arm into deep holes in the mud. Daily work start early at 6am and by the end of the evening, crabbers will come back with bundles of numerous crabs. Its not a surprise that crab catching is the main income source of local fishermen in the Gulf of Guayaquil. The 95% of crabbing in Ecuador takes place here, benefiting local collectors, suppliers, marketers and of course, consumers who enjoy the most of this delicacy, at the point in which it has become an essential dish for local gastronomy and culture.
Despite their acknowledged value, there was a general decrease in the capture of this resource, related directly to the opening-up of the swamp to build shrimp pools, thereby reducing the areas available for catching crabs. Another menace is due to crab catching during its reproduction phase. Once a year they leave their burrows to romp in the mud with a “zombie walk” in search of females to begin mating. This walk which occurs during three-day periods makes crabs vulnerable for human catching in their reproduction phase!
The Government of Ecuador has taken serious steps to protect this specie by prohibiting the collection of female crabs and regulating the minimum catch size of 7.5 centimeters carapace of males. Nowadays catching crabs is banned from March 1 to March 30, to allow the reproduction cycle, and there is a second ban from august 15 to September 15 due to the phase when it changes its carapace to grow. But this last one is not the only reason to prohibit its capture in spring. It turns out that crabs in this period, emanate a substance that can poison consumers. So next time you visit Ecuador, think twice before eating red crab during closure season!