The Sri Lankan blue swimmer crab fishery is a coastal fishery industry, which operates in the relatively shallow waters of Southern tips of Gulf of Mannar across the Palk Straits to the Southern boundary of the Bay of Bengal.
Based almost exclusively on gill net fishing from small fiber reinforced plastic boats and traditional vallams or beaked boats, Sri Lanka’s blue swimming crab fishing industry was mainly a small scale non-mechanized industry in the Jaffna Lagoon using a limited variety of fishing gear including baited traps, stake nets, cone cages and trammel nets.
However, the Sri Lankan Blue Swimmer Crab industry has experienced a metamorphosis, unknown to many, mainly due to the increasing demand for Sri Lankan Blue Swimming Crab from North America, especially the USA. Sri Lankan crab products exported to the USA accounted for 40% of the total annual export earnings from Sri Lankan crab products in the year 2011, amounting to a USD 6 million.
As a direct response to the ongoing changes in the US seafood market, that demands the use of sustainable fishing practices, the Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) was introduced with the participation of many stakeholders including the Seafood Exporters Association of Sri Lanka (SEASL), fishing communities, government agencies, non-government organizations and academics to maintain the social, economic and nutritious values generated by the fishery industry, through sustainable management of resources.
The project was also assisted by the international community, academics, and non-governmental organizations, which contributed with funds, technology, and skills to the development of an action plan for the sustainable harvesting of Sri Lankan Blue Swimmer Crab.
While the core area of the blue swimmer crab fishing industry was directly affected due to a 3-decade long civil war, the industry is seeing a resurgence, following the end of the fighting in May 2009.
Caught throughout the year by Sri Lankan fishermen, blue swimmer crab industry has gained multiple demand chains locally and globally, contributing to the expansion of the industry, which has grown to be an important source of income and employment for fishermen and traders in the once war plagued coastal districts of the area including Jaffna and Puttalam.
However concerns are being raised on the needs to strictly implement regulations and best practices to maintain a healthy population of blue swimming crabs in Sri Lankan oceans, which also means limiting the harvesting to crabs above a specific size to avoid juveniles and avoiding the harvesting of female crabs with eggs.
Moreover, bilateral steps are being taken to prevent illegal overfishing conducted by Indian Fishermen in the Sri Lankan half of Palk Bay, one of the main threats to the fishing industry and marine biodiversity of Northern Sri Lankan oceans.