The Curious Case of the Crab Sub-sector of Bangladesh

LightCastle Analytics Wing
October 1, 2019
The Curious Case of the Crab Sub-sector of Bangladesh

Being located at the edge of the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh has a wide and diverse range of seafood options. From Rock Lobsters and Mussels to Prawns and Pomfrets, the country offers many options that cater to the local palette, while also exporting a huge proportion of its production annually. But among the many varieties, the mud crab is gaining momentum as the next big seafood export category. So much so that the government has earmarked the crab sub-sector in Bangladesh as a special development category in its latest Export Policy Act 2018-21.

Commercially sold as “Scylla Serrata”, the popular mud crab is actually scientifically named “Scylla Olivacea”. The rationale behind this is unclear, particularly since both the aforementioned species belong to the same mud crab family and are similar in quality and taste but differ in size.

In terms of business viability, while mud crab production offers a significant return on paper, the industry is yet to achieve sustainability and relies heavily on crablets sourced from nature. Without alternate sources of crablets from hatcheries, the natural stock of crablets will eventually get depleted leading to ecological imbalances.

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Crab Production

Over the years, mud crab farming in the southwest of Bangladesh has witnessed a sharp rise, as more and more farmers are finding it lucrative to rear crabs. As of 2009, the mud crab fishery supported the livelihood of more than 50,000 fishers, traders, brokers, transporters, and exporters in Bangladesh [1] and the number has increased to about 300,000 households at present (2015). [2]

Key reasons for the interest in mud crabs are relatively high prices and the fact that they are less prone to diseases compared to shrimp farming. Additionally, mud crab farming is regarded as less vulnerable to the local effects of climate change and the deterioration of water quality. [3]

Therefore, the increase in mud crab farming can also be interpreted as an adaptive response to deteriorating climatological and environmental conditions.

DetailsVolumeMarket %
DoF Production Volume FY 17-1811787 MT
EPB 2018 Export Volume11435.33 MT97%
Domestic Market351.67 MT3%


Crab has emerged as a potential export earner, thanks to its high demand across the globe and increased farming in the coastal belts of Bangladesh. From the southern belt, crabs are transported to Dhaka and flown either live or frozen to major export destinations. Traders grade the catch and sell them at higher prices of up to $45/kg during peak season.

FIGURE: Historical Crab Export Data / Source: Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh

Types of Export 
Frozen Crab$33million$9.4million$1.8million$3.9million 
Live Crab$9.8million$7.9million$16.4million$19.8million 

Crabs are exported in two forms: Live or Frozen. Live crabs are usually exported to Asian countries because of high demand and logistical limitations. Frozen soft-shell crabs are popular among Western countries with Australia and the United Kingdom leading the way as major exporting destinations.

The historical export volumes show a paradigm shift from live crabs to frozen ones. However, frozen products are mainly sold as soft shell crabs and it requires the collection of young crabs from nature. Therefore, while the demand for frozen crabs is increasing annually, dependence on wild crablets makes sourcing unsustainable for long-term growth.

Apart from the export market, demand for crab has also been rising locally in Bangladesh in tune with the rise of the middle and affluent class (MAC) population, which is projected to quadruple to 37 million in 2021 from the 11.7 million benchmark (2015). [5] This has contributed to greater consumption of seafood, including demand for crab-based dishes in Bangladesh. This is projected to be a key driver of demand for mud crabs in Bangladesh over the medium term. Currently, there are over 110 restaurants in Dhaka that sell crab-based dishes to both locals and expatriates.

The overview of the crab value chain is as follows:

FIGURE: Crab Market Value Chain

Challenges to Growth of Crab Sub-Sector in Bangladesh

Despite potential growth opportunities, the crab sub-sector of Bangladesh is still at a nascent stage and is yet to have a robust value chain. Some of the major bottlenecks have been identified as below:

  • Hatchery facility and infrastructure: Inappropriate infrastructure posed challenges related to a lack of seawater supply, natural light, proper aeration, drainage systems, and biosecurity.
  • Lack of expertise: Since the technology is comparatively new, the market is still getting acquainted with the practices.
  • Nursing Technology: A nurserer grows a crablet into a juvenile crab from which a farmer starts the cultivation. This particular technology will be vital when the crablet supply will be diverted from nature-based sourcing to a crab-based one. While local NGOs have trained around 150 individuals to become nurserers. However, the technical knowledge needs to be improved in order to ensure a higher survival rate when growing juvenile crabs from crablets.
  • Sourcing of crablets: As of now, the majority of crablets are sourced from the wild as it is economically cheaper, and supply from hatchery-based crablets is limited. However, sourcing from the wild will result in resource depletion and hence a hatchery-based crablet production needs to be established in order to achieve sustainability.
  • Customers: As per the Department of Fisheries, for every 100 crabs produced in Bangladesh, 97 of them are exported of which 85 go to China and only 3 are consumed in the local market. Despite growing interest among the locals, the numbers are still below the desired level. The export basket is heavily dependent on just one export destination i.e. China. This increases the risk significantly as any slowdown in the Chinese economy or diplomatic fallout might adversely impact export.

Way Forward

The crab sub-sector of Bangladesh provides a new avenue for the country to diversify its export basket. In terms of production, crabs are easier to maintain with a lower mortality rate in comparison to shrimps. However, the industry is still at its nascent stage and the crab ecosystem is still not developed to complement its value chain.

While the government has taken steps to promote the sector, they also need to focus on capacity development and create incentives to attract private investors, particularly in crablet production in order to avoid depletion of the natural stock of crablets.

The frozen or soft shell crab industry provides an opportunity to export Bangladeshi Crab beyond the Asian belt to developed markets. The dependency on juvenile crabs from the wild puts a wedge on potential growth.

In terms of forward linkage, the local demand for crab needs to be increased in order to diversify crab demand. For export, Bangladesh must look for new export destinations for building a solid growth platform.

This article was written by Sanjir Ali, Business Consultant at LightCastle Partners. For any queries, you can reach him at [email protected]


  • 1.  Molla, M.A.G., M.R. Islam, S. Islam and M.A. Salam. 2009. Socio-economic status of crab collectors and fatteners in the southwest region of Bangladesh. Journal of the Bangladesh Agricultural University 7(2):411-419.
  • 2.  Islam, Aleem and Rahman,Mud Crab Aquaculture: Present Status, Prospect and Sustainability in Bangladesh.
  • 3.  World Bank, 2014
  • 4.  Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh
  • 5. Boston Consulting Group, 2015

WRITTEN BY: LightCastle Analytics Wing

At LightCastle, we take a data-driven approach to create opportunities for growth and impact. We consult and collaborate with development partners, the public sector, and private organizations to promote inclusive economic growth that positively changes the lives of people at scale. Being a data-driven and transparent organization, we believe in democratizing knowledge and information among the stakeholders of the economy to drive inclusive growth.

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