Are freshwater crabs suitable for use as a sustainable livelihood resource in India?

Is the freshwater crab Barytelphusa cunicularis a sustainable Indian livelihood resource? Answering this question will help India address, in part, the UN's sustainable development goals: zero hunger, responsible consumption and production, climate action and life on land. 

Maintaining food security in India is an ongoing challenge. Crab consumption is common along the coast where the mud-crab (Scylla serrata) occurs. Away from the coast, the freshwater crab Barytelphusa cunicularis offers an alternative; it is widely distributed and is collected for subsistence consumption and local trade. It has untested potential for culture, possibly offering a social-economically and ecologically sustainable food which can be resilient to climate change and disease.



Our UK/Indian interdisciplinary team sought to quantify the biological and socio-economic factors necessary for the creation of a sustainable freshwater crab aquaculture business at multiple scales. The Western Ghats in southwest India offers a model system for this with coastal areas, hilly terrain and dry areas. We collected data from six sites along a 1300km north-south line ranging from 20 to 650m above sea level.  

We hope to inform a sustainable aquaculture policy based on choosing crabs from the most suitable populations for culture.  

Interviews assessed current usage of freshwater crabs, barriers to change, market opportunities and interest in aquaculture. Informal conversations with fishery officers and biologists were held to identify support for the implementation of the project.  

Benefits and impact of the project

Current freshwater crab capture and usage is highly seasonal with unknown ecological impacts. By comparison, whole year capture production will reduce ecological impact and would increase the availability of nutritious food and improve incomes. 

The team held some initial interviews which suggested high levels of interest in starting crab farms and good demand from individual consumers but low take-up from restaurants. 

Biological data suggests Barytelphusa cunicularis is suited to aquaculture and we identified the most suitable populations for regional aquaculture. 

The project team’s aim was to embed the knowledge and capacity to improve incomes and access to quality food.

Next steps

  • Workshops will be held in April 2020 with representatives from each stakeholder cluster, from each survey area invited with their basic costs met.

  • Growing the knowledge exchange and capacity building through formal Indian partnerships and employees. The next phase of the project will examine wider India and implementation of the study's findings.

  • The findings from both a socio-economic and biological standpoint will be offered for publication in open access, peer-reviewed publications.

  • Potential to investigate how to optimise husbandry practices for both the production of young crabs and crab-fattening protocols.

  • Creating interfaces between regulators and producers.

Read more about Dr Lucy Turner's career