Americans Compete With Asian Local Markets For Blue Crab

Vietnamese crab boat. Photo by Miguel Jorge.

Last week, I traveled to Kien Giang Province in southern Vietnam to learn about the Vietnamese blue swimming crab fishery. Since 2009 a cross-sector partnership of government agencies, exporters, and WWF-Vietnam have been dealing with contentious issues related to the sustainability of this stock. In discussions with this coalition, I was struck by the contrast between their collective desire to restore the overfished crab population and their frustration that they could not seem to drive basic improvements quickly. To understand how they got to this point, it’s essential to understand how the fishery evolved.

In the 1990s what could best be described as a bunch of seafood cowboys traveled to SE Asia and started a new fishery to meet the growing US demand for crabmeat. They were looking for less expensive sources of product similar to the famous blue crabs found in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

They set up a brand new value chain that stimulated the expansion of the Blue Swimming Crab (BSC) fishery across the region. This was not easy. To ensure good quality and meet US/EU food safety standards, one must catch and land the crab, cook it live, carefully pick the meat out of the shell so it doesn’t fall apart and loose value, and pasteurize it as quickly as possible. Once pasteurized, the product must be kept chilled for the long trip across the globe. After much trial and error, these entrepreneurs helped establish new small businesses called cooking stations and picking stations or mini-plants near landing sites. Soon, tens of thousands of artisanal fishermen were fishing for BSC across the region. In Vietnam alone there are 1500 small and medium-sized boats fish for blue swimming crab. Fortunately for these risk-takers, Americans are willing to pay a pretty penny for our crab —> Read More