THE ‘Ketam Nipah’ (mud crab) is one of the most sought after seafood, due to its succulent flesh and delicate sweet flavor.
It is sold alive, as it is able to survive longer outside of its natural habitat as long as it is kept in a moist environment.
To maintain quality, however, it must be consumed within a maximum of two days after being caught.
“The earliest would be best.
“Basically, the longer we keep the crabs, the ‘lighter’ (less dense flesh) they become,” says local crab trader Iskandar Dzulkarnain Ruzlan. the sunday postdescribing “ketam nipah” as “a premium seafood product.
Iskandar mud crabs are divided into three main categories, each with its own price.
The premium quality, weighing around 500g per crab, ranges from RM60 to RM65 per kilogram, while the high quality, weighing 300g per crab, is available from RM50 to RM55 per kilogram.
The medium grade, weighing 250g and below, costs between RM45 and RM38 per kilogram.
Regarding the offer, Iskandar says it is not fixed.
“It depends on how much my crab catchers carry,” said the 23-year-old, whose father is from Negeri Sembilan and his mother is from Melanau Vaie in Bintulu.
Iskandar has dedicated his life to the crab business, which he ventured into in 2018.
He is delighted that it has been a profitable business ever since, thanks to the constant high demands of crab lovers.
Living in Bintulu with his mother, the young entrepreneur sold fish.
“The business was previously run by my uncle, but in 2018 we both agreed to become crab business partners and hired a worker to help out.”
Navigating has not always been easy for Iskandar like any other business, his has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The series of strict MCOs (Movement Control Orders) really affected not only our daily income, but also that of the fishermen who were supplying the crabs.
“Fortunately, now that the country is entering the endemic phase, things are picking up again – the demands for crabs have started to increase again.”
Iskandar sells live mud crabs supplied by local fishermen – in particular, his team of crab fishers cover palm oil plantations along the Bintulu-Miri coastal road, with catches particularly plentiful in the Telong River in Kuala Suai.
According to him, there are also crabs in a stream connected to the river.
“Sometimes there are crabs caught in the sewers of the estates.
“I also get my supplies from crabbers in the Nyalau area.”
Iskandar supplies the most premium crabs to local seafood restaurants, with the rest sold at the Sebiew wet market on weekdays, open from 1.30pm to 6pm daily.
“On weekends, I run a stall at ABF Beach in Tanjong Batu, selling crabs from morning until noon, then I go to the Sebiew wet market.”
Not without challenges
Another constant challenge is market competition, where Iskandar has to compete with other crab merchants.
According to him, such competition affects market prices – the highest bidder would get more supplies.
Also, the job of crab fishing is not easy and as such, crab fishers normally ask buyers to raise prices.
“To prevent my crab catchers from going to other buyers, I have no choice but to keep my bid prices at the same level as the asking price, or even higher.”
Iskandar also provides its catchers with all the necessary gear like ‘bento’ traps, lighting sets and other support tools, in order to maintain the supply.
Asked about the risks, Iskandar points out the crocodiles in the river.
He recalls a 2018 incident at an oil palm plantation in Bintulu, where one of his Indonesian crab fishers was killed by a crocodile.
“Actually, he wasn’t catching crabs; just washed his hands by the river when tragedy struck.
“Immediately after this incident, all my crab catchers stopped plucking the mud crabs for fear of another crocodile attack. This went on for three months.”
Iskandar has a strong team of 20-30 crab fishermen covering every area, but that doesn’t guarantee he’ll always get a bountiful catch as this trade also depends on luck.
“Usually, I manage to pick up between 50 and 60 kilos per week. I would buy all sizes,” he adds.
Supply and demand
According to him, there are different ways to catch crabs: one is to use “bento” traps and another is to dig holes along the bank.
Of the variety of mud crabs, Iskandar says there is a species with red claws, and also “bakau” crabs, which have a dark greenish-brown tint to the shells.
Regardless of the type, the most prized would be those with eggs.
“These are under the ‘limited edition’ category, famous among crab lovers.
“Not all female crabs lay eggs, however, and in that regard there are certain techniques for catching those that are still laden with their reddish eggs.
“Most crabs caught using digging techniques are much larger than those crawling on the surface,” he says.
Even with his good team of receivers, Iskandar is also occasionally supplied by Balingian, Kuala Tatau and Pulau Bruit, Daro.
“They would call me and I would collect their catch, whether small or large.
“Sometimes it made me put on 300 to 400 kilograms in a week,” he says.
Based on his experience, Iskandar says crabs are usually plentiful during “bright moon season”, adding that the best time for picking would be after “king’s tide” (super high tide) when the water begins to withdraw.
About the most profitable season for his business, Iskandar categorically states: “During the holiday season.”
“Take the example of Chinese New Year: I was getting a lot of pre-order bookings from customers as early as a year before the celebration.
“However, I dare not promise them anything because catching fresh crabs is very difficult, demanding and risky,” he adds.
Returning to the prices, Iskandar acknowledges that there have been complaints about the hikes, but he sees this as part of the challenges for businesses.
“Yes, the prices are much more expensive now, but it’s unavoidable because I have to adjust the prices according to the market situation.”
Use of modern technology
Iskandar considers the availability of modern technology to be “very useful”, especially in terms of promotion.
“Now we can easily connect with our buyers through social media, which has been one of the most effective platforms for alerting crab lovers to the arrival of any fresh catches,” he says.
While Iskandar is pleased with constant requests from crab lovers, he advocates moderation when it comes to enjoying this sumptuous seafood.
“Yes, they are delicious, but don’t overeat, especially the ones with the eggs.
“Eating too much can cause dizziness – trust me, it’s based on my own experience,” he warns.