22 December 2008

Shelled crab meat: who shells them?

Indonesian housewives in Batam are among those that carefully shell the crabs that we eat.

"Crabs are boiled to a certain temperature, not too cooked nor too raw, so they're easy to peel." From about 100 kg of crabs, only 40 kg of meat can be obtained. A number of tools are needed to remove the meat, such as hammers and pliers. The shells are later gathered to make into fertilizer.

Unfortunately, the recession has resulted in a drop in the prices of peeled crabs and affecting the humble folks who make this delicacy available.

Crab-shelling housewives feel global pinch
Fadli, The Jakarta Post 22 Dec 08;
For six years a dozen housewives have been gathering 'round a table on Bulang Kebam Island of the Riau Islands, but they're not there to gossip and play mah-jongg.

No, the table is this fishy smelling room is full of boiled crabs which they are patiently and diligently shelling.

The meat will be sent to an exporter before heading on to the United States, its final destination. The current financial crisis has also had an impact on these ladies' income, as crabmeat no longer fetches a good price.

The owner of the Batam municipality facility, Ita Karim, 40, told The Jakarta Post recently that before the crisis, the export price of a kilogram of crabmeat could reach Rp 160,000 (about US$14.50), but now it had dropped to Rp 100,000 per kg.

"The price has gradually dropped over the past month. Even though orders are still coming in, we don't know if we can survive. If it's no longer possible, I'll just have to close the shop," Ita said.

Ita and her husband have been buying seafood products, such as fish, crabs and shrimp, from the island's fishermen for dozens of years.

They began supplying crabmeat in 2002, when one of the Lampung-based exporters placed an order.

The exporter then opened a branch in Batam where he continued to purchase crabmeat but sent it to Lampung where it is packaged and sent on to the U.S.

"Crabs are boiled to a certain temperature, not too cooked nor too raw, so they're easy to peel," Ita said.

Local housewives are employed on a regular basis who are paid according to the amount of meat they shell. The fee for each kilogram of shelled meat was Rp 30,000 before, but has dropped to Rp 20,000 now due to its falling price.

The women then divide the total earnings equally among themselves, each earning at least Rp 100,000 daily.

According to Ita, from about 100 kg of crabs, only 40 kg of meat can be obtained.

A number of tools are needed to remove the meat, such as hammers and pliers. The shells are later gathered to make into fertilizer.

The workers are not allowed to use cosmetics because they can contaminate the meat. They are also asked to wear head covers during work.

"This business will close down if the global economic recession continues due to the lack of a domestic market for crabmeat," Ita said.

Ita is the only crab collector on Bulang Kebam Island. She said many similar businesses can be found all over Batam, but she is unclear of the exact number.

A mother of two who works at the facility, Warti, 35, voiced her concern over the drop in crabmeat prices overseas.

"My husband doesn't have a steady income, so we always rely on my earnings. If the orders stop and the business closes, I must find another job," Warti said.

Bulang Kebam Island, situated about 15 minutes from Batam Island, still lacks access to clean water, power and telephone connections.

It relies on a generator that operates from 6 p.m. until 11.00 p.m., and artesian wells as a clean water source.

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