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Crablets help indigent people survive

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BARCELONA, Sorsogon, July 2, 2014 – Along the coastline, hundreds of men and women, young and old, earn enough — from selling crablets that thrive under the seagrass and mangroves — to buy a few kilos of rice.

In the coming days, as the water a few meters off the shoreline cools, crablet hunting season will commence. Hundreds of indigent fishermen and farmers alike, including their children, will resume hunting for crablets the size of a rice grain.

A group of crablet hunters scour the sea bed along the coastline of barangay Tagdon, Barcelona, Sorsogon under gray sky. (Photo: Oliver Samson)

Generosity of the sea

Indigent grade school age children, carrying on their shoulders ‘agahid’, twice their height, can be seen by now retracing the coastlines through the sides of the national highway, particularly on Saturdays and Sundays, when they have no classes.

Agahid is a local fishing tool made of a long bamboo pole with a nylon mesh knitted around a rim much like a basket. The tool is pushed against the seabed to catch the crablets.

To Albert Habulan of barangay Tagdon, who is completely dependent on the generosity of the sea to feed and meet the needs of his family, the crablets are heaven-sent on days he would not dare sail miles off the coast to catch fish because of turbluent seas.

The thirtyish Habulan, who lives with his wife and three children on a landowner’s lot along the coastline of barangay Tagdon, and who is considered the best crablet hunter in town, can earn about P800 in a day if the sea is generous. Others can only make less.

Peak season for crablets

At P3.50 apiece during cold months, the crablets are at their highest local value, said Ernesto Estrabella, a dealer in barangay Tagdon. In the summer, price dips to its lowest at 75 cents.

Pawik, the crablet at its late stage of incubation, sells for a lower price. It hatches into baby crabs after two days.

In a day, Estrabella dispatches about 15, 000 baby crabs to another dealer in the town of Gubat. He estimated Barcelona ships about 50, 000 crablets a day.

In Barcelona alone, no less than 100 crablet hunters sweep the seabed. Most of the time their backs are bent as they push the agahid into the ocean floor, picking out the tiny crablets from seagrass, soil, twigs, small rocks, snails and other particles. At night, they use headlights.

Fishermen in the towns of Gubat, Bulusan, and Magallanes also sweep their shorelines for crablets, Estrabella said. The crablets are shipped in thousands to crab growers in Pampanga and Roxas City.

From time to time, the issue of child labor resurfaces. But there is no coercion. Children voluntarily offer to help their parents eke out a living.

Crablet hunting has long been prohibited by barangay councils. But they offer compassion, not rules to these indigent people. (Oliver Samson)


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