The waters of the coastal lagoons in the state of Sergipe, north-east Brazil, have always been a rich source of various species of crab. The inhabitants of these rural areas, often employed by rich landowners in the sugarcane plantations, gain essential nutrition from crab fishing in these mangrove-lined salt waters. In particular, the lagoons in the area of Santa Luzia do Itanhy are the habitat for the aratu (Goniopsis cruentata), a small crab with tasty delicate flesh. This crustacean belongs to the Grapsidae family and lives among the mangroves in holes in the sand of the shoreline or inside branches in the dense vegetation. Fishing for aratu has always been a women’s activity: they would set out for the lagoon in the morning and once in the water, sang traditional songs to draw the crabs into special wooden traps. The women then returned to the village in the evening to share out the catch with their families.
However, in recent years with the arrival of electricity in small communities, the situation has changed: the women clean the aratu as soon as it is caught and keep the meat in the freezer for intermediaries who buy it at ridiculously low prices before reselling it to restaurateurs in nearby tourist areas for more than double the price. In addition, as has already happened for the more common caranguejo crab, the gatherers of Santa Luzia do Itanhy are seeing a progressive reduction in the numbers of aratu in their local waters. This is partly due to shrimp farms in the lagoons, since feed regularly escapes from the fish tanks and kills the aratu. But it is also due to unsustainable exploitation of the resource by some of the local gatherers, who do not refrain from fishing and eating undersize crabs or pregnant females.
According to IBAMA (The Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) from 2000 to 2004 the mortality of local crabs due to a fungal disease has caused the daily catch of caranguejo to fall from 180 to around 20. This has of course caused significantly increased pressure on the aratu, which is now at risk of extinction.
The Aratu Presidium has been set up in the community of Cajazeiras, in the municipality of Santa Luzia do Itanhy, an area with high levels of poverty and illiteracy. Cajazeiras is a small nucleus of quilombola, people directly descended from slaves of African origin who escaped or were freed at the end of slavery. The group is composed of 250 families, whose small scale economy revolves around aratu fishing. Until a few years ago the average catch per day was 4 kg of aratu, but it has now fallen to half a kilo.
There is an urgent need for intervention, in collaboration with local institutions, to create areas for repopulating stocks of aratu and to reduce the pressure of overfishing, differentiating it from other types of fishing. At the same time it is important to act with the producers of this community (identified for a pilot project replicable in the whole area) in the following three areas: to educate gatherers in sustainable use of resources, reducing the numbers of aratu caught; to improve the processing of the aratu catch in order to increase the value added and to find commercial alternatives for the product. The municipality of Santa Luzia is already actively involved in the project, helping with the restoration of a public building to be used as a meeting place and processing area for the Presidium producers.
Community of Cajazeiras, Municipality of Santa Luzia do Itanhy, Sergipe
Presidium sponsored by
Veneto Regional Authority
With the support of
Brazilian Ministry of Agricultural Development
Municipality of Santa Luzia do Itanhy