Helping women fishers protects mangrove forests and fisheries livelihoods

Helping women fishers protects mangrove forests and fisheries livelihoods


Research efforts by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Fiji pre- (2015) and post-cyclone (2016) enabled a detailed comparative analysis of the impacts of Cyclone Winston on local communities, and particularly women fishers reliant on the mud crab fishery for food and livelihoods. The assessment documented gender differences in fishing effort, prices, and catch volumes in the post-cyclone recovery period.

In partnership with the Ministry of Fisheries, the Fiji Locally Managed Area (FLMMA) network and the Women in Fisheries Network-Fiji (WiFN-Fiji), WCS has provided support to enable recovery and reestablishment of mud crab fisheries in Bua Province on the island of Vanua Levu. These include increasing the role of women in decision-making in the fishery, seeking ways to reverse losses incurred by women fishers and ensuring that women, not just men, receive fair market value for their crabs. WCS also provides continuing guidance on establishing fishing regulations and practices, such as spatial and temporal closures, that promote recovery and resilience of the mud crab fishery.


In 2016, Category 5 Cyclone Winston pounded Fiji, impacting the livelihoods of 62% of the country's population. Cyclone related damage and loss to fisheries alone were estimated to be US $ 19.7 million. Although largely domestic, the mud crab fishery in Fiji provides essential food and livelihoods for many local communities with access to mangrove forests. Previous research by WCS Fiji helped establish baselines on catch, size preferences, prices and markets targeted by fishers and the contribution of the fishery to household income. These efforts established that women fishers dominate the mud crab fishery, whereas men invest more in fishing coastal reefs and the open ocean.

Following the cyclone, WCS and partners conducted a follow up survey to examine the social and economic impacts of this natural disaster. The objectives were to develop recommendations for promoting mud-crab recovery efforts by the local communities. The research found that some fishers had stopped collecting mud-crabs because of damage to fishing grounds or damage to boats while others had reduced the time they allocated to mud-fishing so that they could help with the rebuilding efforts after the cyclone. Many surveyed fishers reported a reduction in the number of mud-crabs caught after the cyclone. However, the average price of crabs had risen from US $5.26 to $6.76 per kg, with crabs sold by men fetching a higher price. The survey also identified other livelihoods and sources of income that mud-crab fishers relied upon including kava root collecting, weaving and coconuts. The majority (>87%) of fishers agreed that mangroves provide protection for fish, crabs and other invertebrates. They also recognized that mangroves protected shorelines, breeding grounds for many species and prevented erosion of the river banks.


Securing Livelihoods IconLIVELIHOODS: Following the cyclone, fishers reported variations in mud-crab collecting across districts. Overall, there were no significant changes in travel time to collecting sites even though some fishers had to find new sites. Many (68%) fishers observed a change in number of crabs caught, with some reporting fewer and others reporting more. Significantly, post-cyclone mud-crabs were more likely sold to middlemen (70%) compared to pre-cyclone (24%), although household consumption remained similar. Respondents also reported a 28% increase in sale price of mud-crabs post cyclone. It was also established that many fishers had other sources of income and that only 11% of fishers were solely reliant on the mud-crab fishery.

Gender IconGENDER: The assessment by WCS showed that women fishers were paid less than men post-cyclone (US $6.67/kg versus $7.40/kg respectively). WCS and the communities are discussing whether establishing mud-crab sellers cooperatives are a viable option for ensuring that women and are paid the same amount as men for the mud-crabs they collect. In other places timely access to market-price information has helped fishers to secure the best price for their catch. WCS is exploring how to ensure that mud-crab fishers, regardless of gender, know what different buyers are paying for mud-crabs before they take the mud-crabs they have collected to market.

Wellbeing IconWELL-BEING: To increase income and food security of all mud-crab fishing families, WCS and the fishing communities are looking for funding to support the recovery of damaged mud-crab fishing grounds and are exploring the feasibility of collective management of the mud-crab fishery collectively to ensure equitable sharing of benefits and to maintain the post-cyclone increase in sales price by controlling the supply.


For additional information, see: Mangubhai S, Fox M, Nand Y (2017) Value chain analysis of the wild caught mud crab fishery in Fiji. Wildlife Conservation Society. Report No. 03/17. Suva, Fiji. 100 pp.

Vandervord C, Fox M, Yashika Nand, Unaisi Nalasi, Tarusila Veibi, Mangubhai S (2016) Impact of Cyclone Winston on Mud Crab Fishers in Fiji. Wildlife Conservation Society. Report No. 04/16. Suva, Fiji. 23 pp.

Mud crab fisher from Dama Village/Sangeeta Mangubhai ©WCS

Strings of mud crabs being sold in muncipal markets around Fiji/Sangeeta Mangubhai ©WCS

Map of Sites Surveyed

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