Imposing water-purity laws will kill off our livelihood, say concerned crab farmers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2007, 12:00am

Fishermen in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, are angry over their regional government's plan to ban the farming of hairy crabs in Yangcheng Lake in an attempt to protect a water source for more than 10 million people.

The authorities, who accuse crab farmers of polluting the lake by using excessive feed to boost yields of the delicacy, last week announced their intention to restrict the industry.

'How can I make a living in the future?' asked Gao Xueming, 44, who has been breeding crabs in the lake for 14 years.

'My wife and I raise crabs and earn about 40,000 yuan a year. We are now too old [to do something else] and have no education.'

Mr Gao said he did not think crab farmers were responsible for polluting the lake, but instead blamed the government.

'They let factories exploit the area around the lake. Small chemical factories release their untreated waste into it.'

Crab farmers usually raise the crustaceans in areas divided by nets, separating the lake.

The government wants to stop the farming and allow the crabs to move freely in the lake, and will consider issuing licences to allow crab farmers to fish for them.

The 113-sq km lake, northeast of Suzhou and about 60km from Shanghai, is famous for its hairy crabs and attracts tens of thousands of visitors from Shanghai, Taiwan and Japan to taste the delicacy every autumn.

Another crab farmer, who refused to give his name, said the government should pay them compensation if it imposed the ban.

Crab farming on the lake peaked six years ago with 2,800 farms. Since 2002, about 1,300 licences have been revoked in an attempt to clean up the lake, Yang Weilong , director of the Suzhou Yangcheng Lake Hairy Crab Association, told the Wen Wei Po newspaper.

Mr Yang said the area covered by netted crab farms was expected to cover less than a quarter of the lake's surface by the end of the year, down from when it covered more than three-quarters of the lake six years ago.

He said he expected the output of hairy crabs to fall to 800 tonnes next year from this year's expected 1,800 tonnes.

Jiang Huiming, manager of the Crab Residence restaurant, said the price of hairy crabs in Hong Kong would rise if the ban was implemented because there would be fewer large crabs available.

'There will not be so many giant crabs - over 200g,' he said. 'Wild crabs in my experience are smaller than farmed ones because they have less food.' He said Hong Kong companies only imported big crabs and so prices would rise.