Flavors of Brazil wrote about the Thursday-night-ritual crab fest here in Fortaleza, my Brazilian home town. Every Thursday night here in Fortaleza, many thousands of locals and tourists head to outdoor bars and restaurants along the city's seafront and beaches and eat many more thousands of crabs. (Click here for more on Fortaleza's Thursday night crab fest).
Although the crabs become dinner here in Fortaleza, they are not harvested locally. Rather, 95% of the crabs eaten in Fortaleza, according to a recent article in the Jornal do Brasil, come from the neighboring states of Piauí and Maranhão - specifically from the mangrove swamps in the delta of the Parnaíba River, the only river delta in the Americas that terminates in the open ocean. There has recently been a lot of concern about the long-term sustainability of that crab fishery, an important source of income for inhabitants of the region.
Recently an awareness and certification campaign called "Selo Caranguejo Verde" was announced in Fortaleza, thanks to the efforts of Jefferson Legal, a fisheries researcher for EMBRAPA, the Brazilian national agriculture and pisciculture organization, in cooperation with Bernard Twardy, executive chef of the Beach Park Hotel, just outside Fortaleza. This initiative is aimed at raising public awareness of the sustainability issues involved with the crab fishery, and at promoting the sale of sustainable, or "green", crabs in Fortaleza's bars and restaurants.
The iniative has a two-pronged approach. First, making the dining public aware of what makes a crab "green", and second, providing those restaurants that only source sustainable crabs with a seal of certification that they can post on walls, menus and in advertisement. The hope is that the public will begin to favor those restaurants that serve green crabs, which will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the crab fishery.
Sr. Legal developed a protocol and a technique for the capture, handling, storage, and transport of crabs that he says will reduce the mortality rate of the harvest from the current 25-55% to a much more sustainable 5%. After extensive testing, Legal developed a system of stocking and transporting the crabs, without binding their claws, in large plastic containers. In these containers, the crabs are laid between sheets of foam rubber which has been moistened with water from their usual habitat, the mangrove swamps of the river delta. Protected by the foam rubber, and kept moist by the water, the survival rate of crabs improves enormously.
Each year a thousand tons of crabs, about 6 million individual crabs, make their way to market in Fortaleza, and the crab fishery which furnishes them provides the primary source of income to almost 5000 people in Piauí and Maranhão. If the Green Crab Initiative can help to make this fishery sustainable in the long run, it will not only preserve crab stocks and aid the economy in the areas in which the crabs are harvested, it will ensure the continued existence of Fortaleza's Thursday night crab fest.