Threatened with Illegal Catching, the Walnut Crab Population in North Maluku is Increasingly Limited

  • The canary crab Birgus latro), which is the largest land arthropod in the world, is threatened with its population due to illegal catching by people in several islands in Eastern Indonesia, including in North Maluku, to be sold to restaurants at high prices.
  • Even though canary crabs are protected animals, in 2017, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry issued regulations on the limited use of canary crabs as game animals to accommodate requests to legalize the capture of these crabs in the North Maluku region.
  • The results of FKIP research at Khairun University, Ternate in 2015 indicated that canary crabs were increasingly threatened with extinction because the body size of canary crabs caught was getting smaller. So it is necessary to carry out captive breeding for cultivation and control over catching from the wild
  • SKW 1 Ternate BKSDA Maluku admits that enforcement of the law on hunting, catching and trading of TSL is hampered by limited resources and apparatus. Meanwhile, the work area is also very wide.

The canary crab or coconut crab ( Birgus latro ) is the largest land arthropod in the world. The existence of canary crabs globally is spread across the Indian Ocean to the central Pacific Ocean, including in Indonesia.

In Indonesia , canary crabs are spread separately on the islands of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, the Maluku Islands and even Papua.

In research by Haryanti and Daisy Wowor in 2005 on Kadatua Island in Southeast Sulawesi and Kayoa Island in North Maluku (Malut), canary crabs were still found quite often, although exact data is not available.

"There is no definite data regarding the size of the canary crab population on these islands. "The absence of definite data about the population and continued illegal fishing will threaten the canary crab population," said Haryanti et al in the research report .

Illegal fishing for canary crabs continues to be carried out by people in several islands in Eastern Indonesia, including North Maluku. They are caught for their own consumption or sold to big cities to be served in restaurants at high prices, which can reach IDR 800,000 per head.

From searches by Indonesia, this canary crab can be found as a dish in a number of restaurants in Ternate City, North Maluku. The information gathered states that tens to hundreds of canary crabs are supplied every month to various restaurants in Ternate City.

Limited Utilization

Canary crabs are protected animals based on Minister of Forestry Decree No.12/Kpts/II/1987 and Government Regulation (PP) No.7/1999 concerning Preservation of Plant and Animal Species. And it is included in the IUCN Red List of Species with vulnerable status ( vulnerable / vu).

However, in 2017, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) issued regulations on the limited use of canary crabs as game animals with certain conditions through Decree (SK) of the Minister of Environment and Forestry No.057/Menlhk/Sekjen/KSA.2/5/ 2017. This is to accommodate requests to legalize crab fishing in the North Maluku region.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry issued this regulation with recommendations from LIPI research results in 2017, where almost all small islands in North Maluku have the potential for canary crabs. Take for example South Halmahera, namely Pisang Island, Talimau, Kayoa Island and Gamumu; in Central Halmahera, namely on Gebe Island; as well as in West Halmahera, North Halmahera and East Halmahera.

Previously in 2009, canary crabs weighing 4 kg were still found. However, currently it is very difficult to find canary crabs measuring 3 kg.

Meanwhile, the results of research by Supyan, et al from the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences (FKIP) Khairun University, Ternate in 2015, found the potential for canary crabs in the western part of Ternate Island with a crab population density of 0.00114 individuals/m2. This population is very small, but it is still possible to develop considering that the male and female sex ratio is generally still balanced.

"From these findings, it is indicated that the canary crab is increasingly threatened with extinction," explained Supyan to Indonesia, Tuesday (06/02/2024).

The indications are that the size of canary crabs caught is getting smaller. Some of the catches are still very small and already carry eggs. This means that in nature crabs accelerate mating as a strategy to survive due to hunting pressure.

Canary Crab Conservation Efforts

Supyan said that efforts to protect canary crabs were limited to determining them as protected animals in accordance with Minister of Forestry Decree No.12/Kpts/II/1987 and PP No.7/1999. He saw that there were no derivative regulations such as designating an area or island as a canary crab conservation area.

In North Maluku, there are efforts by the BKSDA to maintain this animal through captive breeding. However, this effort has not been completely successful because the natural habitat does not match the breeding habitat.

There is also a captive breeding effort in closed containers carried out by IPB Bogor with broodstock and crablets from North Maluku. But only limited to enlargement. There has been no cultivation effort from spawning, so it cannot produce the F2 offspring that should be expected from breeding.

"According to us, this activity has not touched the preservation and full protection efforts," said Supyan.

For this reason, Supyan encourages local governments, especially in North Maluku, to immediately issue regulations on the use of these animals. "Banning it completely may be difficult because this animal has already become a culinary icon and has a high bargaining value on the market. "It's difficult to prevent arrests by the public," he continued.

However, no matter how difficult it is, as an animal that is vulnerable to extinction according to the IUCN due to hunting and slow growth, efforts must be made to maintain its population.

Apart from captive breeding, one effort that can be made is to determine the size suitable for catching and consuming canary crabs. The size suitable for catching must be adjusted to the size of the animal's gonads when they first mature, which means the size of the animal that has already mated so that it is estimated that a cub will be born as a replacement for its mother.

"Based on our study in 2015, the size of the first mature gonads of coconut crabs on Uta Island was 300 grams. When compared to the catches of several catchers on Gebe Island, the sizes were much smaller than 300 grams. "Because of this condition, it is very worrying that in the next 5 - 10 years, the canary crab population on Gebe Island will be very difficult to obtain again," he continued.

He also suggested that breeders pay attention to the suitability of the habitat so that canary crabs can develop, spawn, mate and produce offspring up to F2 which can be consumed. "Don't let captive breeding be carried out just to legalize the use of these animals. "In fact, breeding is carried out not only to obtain F2 offspring, but also to preserve the population of this animal in nature," he stressed.

Meanwhile, Mohdar Hasanat, a canary crab breeder on Gamumu Obi Island, South Halmahera, North Maluku, suggested that the regulations on the use of canary crabs as game animals according to Minister of Environment and Forestry Decree No.057/Menlhk/Sekjen/KSA.2/5/2017 need to be tightened. -The conditions and supervision in the field are strict so that no one catches them from the wild anymore.

He proposed catching canary crabs from the wild only as broodstock in captivity. This includes the rule that from canary crab parents taken from the wild, 10% of the offspring are released back into nature to maintain the population. This certainly requires regulatory support, especially from regional governments, both provincial and district/city.

Arrest and Surveillance Quotas

Head of Regional Conservation Section (SKW) 1 Ternate BKSDA Maluku Abas Hurasan told Indonesia Tuesday (27/2/2024) that there was a Decree of the Minister of Environment and Forestry No.SK 257/MenLHK/Setjen/KSA.2.5/2017 concerning the determination of Walnut Crab (Birgus latro) in North Maluku as a Hunting Animal.

The Minister of Environment and Forestry's Decree states that based on the recommendation of the Head of the LIPI Biological Research Center in accordance with letter number 162IPHH.1/KS.02.04/III/2017 dated March 14 2017, it is recommended that canary crabs in North Maluku can be utilized.

Based on this recommendation, canary crabs in North Maluku can still be taken with a limited quota as breeding stock with the maximum condition that they have a carapace length of 8.0 cm or weigh one kilogram. Meanwhile, for consumption, the shell must be 9.5 cm long or weigh 1.3 kilograms.

The decree also regulates the collection or catching of canary crabs from outside nature conservation areas and nature reserve areas. However, said Abas, only those who have obtained permission can arrest parties, not in general. There were two people who were given fishing permit quotas, where up to now the fishing quotas given have not been used up.

Regarding the information provided by canary crab researchers from Khairun University in Ternate, which states that the population in the field is decreasing, indicated by the smaller size of canary crabs that have been caught, at least these results can be recommended to BRIN so that they can be used as material for evaluation and consideration. This is because the issuance of the permit from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry was also due to a recommendation from LIPI which has now changed to BRIN.

"The decree on hunting animals was because there was a LIPI recommendation at that time where the quota that could be caught was based on the results of a survey conducted by LIPI in 2016," explained Abas. The quota is approximately 15 thousand heads. If the quota has been reached or has run out, it can be stopped. Until now, the fishing quota has not been used up. "There are approximately 3000 remaining," he said.

Likewise regarding efforts to enforce regulations, especially hunting, catching and selling, not only canary crabs. All types of protected plants and wild animals (TSL) are monitored at all times. Both through patrols and direct outreach to the community.

Abas admitted that enforcement of the law on hunting, catching and trading of TSL was not running smoothly due to limited resources and apparatus. Meanwhile, the work area is also very wide. "So far, protection and prevention efforts have been carried out not only for canary crabs but for all TSL," he explained.

He gave the example that in 2019, a party whose attempt to smuggle more than 100 canary crabs from North Maluku to Bitung, North Sulawesi using a ship was thwarted. Even the person suspected of being the perpetrator was processed and thrown into prison.

Currently, the catch of canary crabs has also decreased because according to their monitoring results, there is no stock coming in at several restaurants.

To protect and protect the canary crab, he hopes that the presence of a hatchery on Gamumu Obi Island, South Halmahera, can help answer efforts to overcome the illegal catching and hunting of this animal. Especially restaurants that can buy it directly from the menu as a menu.

"Currently there are still several improvements to the existing breeding stock. Hopefully in the future this captive production can overcome the illegal hunting that occurs," he hoped.

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