The Kerkenna Islands Blue Crab: Curse or Opportunity?

AA/Tunisia/Wayden Jlassi

The blue crab, first spotted in the Gulf of Gabes (in the southeast) in 2014, is native to the American continent, and continues to breed on the Mediterranean coast, harming other marine species, destroying fish and nets. Highly invasive, this marine species quickly became the bane of small-scale Tunisian fishermen, but a godsend for others.

Fishermen in southern Tunisia have dubbed this invasive crustacean Daesh. In view of the damage caused to fishing activities by these terrible predators, the fishermen of the Kerkenna Islands are issuing a warning about the spread of this blue-clawed crab, which devours everything in its path: other crab species, fish. , and bivalve molluscs for fillet cuts. Now, small fishermen are forced to change their nets at least three times a year, whereas before they did it once every two or three years.

– The beast of the Kerken fishermen

“The blue crab is a real scourge on the Kerkenna Islands. This marine species destroys nets and equipment and attacks us when we try to remove it. Our fingers often have ribs that prevent us from working for days or even weeks. We raise our nets overflowing with blue crabs, voracious crustaceans that leave us nothing. Even if it is edible, we cannot sell it because they refuse to buy it from us when there is the slightest deformity. When it has no defects, the pickers offer us ridiculous prices per box,” Ahmed Taktak, a fisherman and community activist, told Anadolu Agency.

Small-scale fishermen in the Kerkenna Islands face a number of problems. Indeed, the frequency of tides in the archipelago, located about 21 kilometers from Sfax (south-eastern Tunisia), changes during the day, the degradation of the ecosystem due to Kiss fishing, poaching, unregulated trawling and other harmful practices carried out in the sea destroy the marine fauna and biodiversity of the archipelago, which suffers from pollution and the effects of climate change.

The archipelago, once known for its rich fish resources, is now impoverished. The spread of the blue crab only increases the economic difficulties of small Kerken fishermen.

“Our ancestors taught us to fish on the Charfyu, the Jug or the Drina. Artisanal fishing is a heritage that has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. For years, the state has turned a blind eye to the extent of illegal activity in the Kerkenna Islands, particularly the crab-eating trawlers, causing catastrophic damage to fisheries and, in particular, Posidonia sea grass. They are trying to convince us that we can benefit from the proliferation of blue-fingered crabs. However, this is only a bait, given that this crustacean is also illegally and overfished. However, the blue crab that is sold and exported comes mostly from illegal fishing. Some parts, including the big trawlers in the region, actually have a profitable business without worrying about the depletion of the sea over time and the small fishermen,” explained the Kerken activist.

– Economic excess profit

In recent years, factories have been opened in Tunisia, in particular in Zarzis (southeast), which produce frozen crabs for export, in particular to Asia and the Persian Gulf countries.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), exports of blue crab from Tunisia increased significantly in May 2021, reaching 2,090.9 tonnes valued at approximately US$7.2 million – compared to 796.1 tonnes valued at US$3.1 million dollars in 2020.

The development of this sector, mainly thanks to foreign investors who seek to sell this species of crab in the long term for mass consumption, is not an option chosen by fishermen or researchers.

When asked by Anadolu Agency about this, Rafik Nawali, chief engineer of the Ministry of Agriculture, said that the blue crab caught in Charfia (a traditional fishing technique) is very popular because, on the one hand, this crustacean remains fresh for export, and on the other hand, this method of fishing, which respects the seabed, allows the preservation of marine fauna.

Nawali indicated that in Zarzis and Djerba this problem does not occur with the same intensity as in Sfax, noting that these two regions from the southeast have far fewer “kayas” (kissing fishermen) and trawlers.

“Of course, Tunisia saw the arrival of the blue crab as a commercial windfall. In 2015, three tons of this crustacean was exported to three countries. Now our export is 7000 tons to 23 countries including Japan and South Korea. The exported blue crab is caught in the Drina (traps) in Gabes and Zarzis, which explains why there is no controversy on this issue in these regions. In Sfax and Kerkenny, there is a kind of conflict between those who are engaged in legal fishing and others who are completely illegal,” our interlocutor clarified.

The latter emphasized that the Ministry of Agriculture is doing everything possible to curb this scourge, which harms both small-scale fishermen and marine wildlife.

“Unfortunately, trawlers and other fishermen who practice illegal and harmful methods at sea are completely unaware of the seriousness of this easy profit that will harm future generations and our ecosystem,” said Nawali.

And let’s add: “The Ministry of Agriculture, with the support of civil society and other organizations, spares no effort to curb the scourge of illegal fishing.”

It should be noted that fishermen, researchers and associations involved in the protection of the sea have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the degradation of fish resources, which is, in fact, related to illegal fishing activities, especially in the Kerkenna Islands.

The blue crab, this unwanted guest turned find, is also at risk of overexploitation. According to Nawali, researchers such as Olfa Ben Abdallah, a lecturer at the National Institute of Marine Science and Technology (INSTM), pointed out during his participation in the 1st International Blue Crab Festival (October 17 to 19). /Kerkennah), the beginning of overexploitation of this crustacean on the coast of Tunisia.

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