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The role of women in the mangrove crab (Ucides cordatus, Ocypodidae) production process in North Brazil (Amazon region, Par)
Andr Magalhes a , Rauqurio Marinho da Costa a, * , Rossivaldo da Silva a , Luci Cajueiro Carneiro Pereira b

Laboratrio de Plncton e Cultivo de Microalgas, Universidade Federal do Par, Campus Universitrio de Bragana. Alameda Leandro Ribeiro s/n, Aldeia, Bragana, Par, Brazil b Laboratrio de Oceanografia Costeira e Estuarina, Universidade Federal do Par, Campus Universitrio de Bragana. Alameda Leandro Ribeiro s/n, Aldeia, Bragana, Par, Brazil. CEP: 68600-000

Article history: Received 19 February 2005 Received in revised form 5 May 2006 Accepted 26 May 2006 Available online 24 July 2006 Keywords: Amazon region Ucides cordatus Crab pickers Crabmeat Women

The mangrove crab Ucides cordatus is considered by some authors as the keystone species in the mangrove ecosystem of the Caet river estuary, North Brazil. In this region, crab fishery constitutes the main source of income for native households, and crab collectors are almost all men. The present study was carried out to characterize the role of women in the mangrove crab production process in the district of Caratateua (Par, Brazil). Crabmeat processing and other activities, such as the construction of traps and other crab gathering artifacts used by the men in crab collection, clearly place the women in the crab production process. 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.



Mangroves are coastal ecosystems situated in tropical and subtropical zones, in which an intrinsic and complex pool of ecological and socioeconomic aspects is determinant to the implementation of management planning. The mangroves biological importance undoubtedly resides in the fact that a lot of plant, invertebrate (crustacean, molluscan and others) and some vertebrate species use these ecosystems as breeding and living areas during their entire life cycles or during specific stages of their development (Hatcher et al., 1989; Robertson

et al., 1992; Twilley et al., 1996). The fauna and flora of the mangrove constitute an intricate food web that is essential to the health of coastal ecosystems, as well as to oceans and adjacent seas (Schaeffer-Novelli, 1995). On the other hand, these ecosystems are the niche chosen by a great number of fishermen to obtain products that are essential to their subsistence (Odum and Heald, 1972). In mangrove areas, the main element that defines the survival of local communities is the familial work directed to the production units. In the Amazon littoral some familial works are carried out by local communities that use mangrove natural

Corresponding author. Tel.: +55 91 34254536; fax: +55 91 34251745. E-mail address: (R.M. da Costa). 0921-8009/$ - see front matter 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2006.05.013


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products as resources for their subsistence and as an alternative source of income, although these products have a low total monetary value (Krause, 2002; Krause and Glaser, 2003). Among these products, the mangrove crab Ucides cordatus is considered a keystone species in estuaries in northern Brazil (Schories et al., 2003) where studies linked to biological, economic and social criteria were carried out (Diele, 2000; Wolff et al., 2000; Glaser, 2003; Nordhaus et al., 2006). Studies focusing on gender relations in fishery communities permit the identification of the social, political and economic role of women considering the global context in which they are inserted. They contribute to reflections concerning social relations (Henrique, 2005) propitiating the disruption of traditional structures that limit the advance of public policies that satisfy their strategic necessities, such as those related to health, reproduction and equal work opportunities in the economic system. From the actual knowledge of fishery communities in Brazil and in particular in such communities inserted in the Amazon it is possible to perceive that gender relations do not receive much attention. Although the number of studies reflecting the economic, ecological and social aspects of these communities have been increasing over the past decades little information exists about the active role of women in the Amazonian fishery communities (Furtado, 1987; Alencar, 1993; Motta-Maus, 1993; Maneschy, 1994), including their participation in the exploitation of mangrove products (Maneschy, 2005) especially crabmeat processing (Cardoso, 2000; Alves, 2003). Crabmeat processing developed by local women in the Amazon littoral and specifically in the northeast state of Par can be helpful to understand environmental constraints and gender relations in fishery communities from northern Brazil. Thus, the main aim of this study is to describe the role of women in crabmeat production processing in the Caet estuary, as well as in other activities that are essential to the well-being of their families, taking as reference the Caratateua crabmeat pickers' women.


Study area

Brazil has 8500 km of coastline and the second largest area of continuous mangroves on earth (Kjerfve et al., 1997). The coast of Par, in northern Brazil, is part of the GuiananAmazon mangrove with a relatively stable or intact conservation status attributed to this ecoregion. This work was carried out in the district of Caratateua, situated in northeast Par, approximately 240 km southeast of the capital, Belm, and 18 km from the county of Bragana, on the right bank of the Caet river (Fig. 1). It can be accessed by river or by dirt road (BraganaVizeu highway, PA-242). The climate is characterized by marked seasonality with a rainy season from January to June and a dry season from July to December. Annual average rainfall and temperature are about 2500 mm and 25.5 C, respectively, with 75% of the precipitation falling in the rainy season (INMET, 1992). This locality was chosen as the site for this study because it is representative of the use of natural resources from mangrove ecosystems and because the district comprises a significant number of households that are involved in mangrove crabmeat production. The total number of inhabitants in Caratateua is 8935 people, of which 81% live in rural areas, while the other 19% live in urban areas (IBGE, 2000) in primary social units composed of family groups. The number of people who live alone in Caratateua is insignificant (low), and always temporary. The Caratateua economy is based mainly on fishery (fishes and crabs), with agriculture as a subsistence activity (Fontalvo-Herazo, 2004).



Crabmeat processing activities are essentially restricted to the women who live in the urban area of Caratateua where the field

Fig. 1 Map showing location of the research area in the district of Caratateua (Par), North Brazil.

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research was developed. There are 161 family units directly involved in crab processing. The data were collected through interviews and questionnaires, conducted randomly with twenty crabmeat picker women of different age groups, ranging from 16 to 55 years of age. It is important to underscore that each of the twenty women interviewed in this study represents one family unit, so the universe sampled was 12.42% of the total female population that work in crabmeat processing. The visits to Caratateua were carried out between May and November 2001. During these visits, the every-day activities of the crab pickers were recorded using a combination of structured and semi-structured interview techniques. Other important information was also obtained through informal discussions with those interviewed. During the semi-structured interviews the pickers were asked about their role in the crab production chain and encouraged to talk about their knowledge regarding the environment and the utilization of the natural resources (e.g. life cycle of the mangrove crab and the most adequate period for capture). All the interviews were made in the crab pickers' houses. To investigate the socio-economic pickers' profile, a specific questionnaire was elaborated and applied by researchers. In this questionnaire, data concerning age, marital status, occupation, and family income were gathered, as well as the knowledge of the pickers on crabmeat marketing.


Results and discussion

Crab production and marketing chain

In Caratateua, as well as in most of the rural communities located in coastal regions of the county of Bragana, a strong dependence of the households on the mangrove ecosystem was observed by some authors (Glaser et al., 1997; Krause et al., 2001; Duarte and Cabral, 2005). The economic viability of these communities is based on the marketing of crab and fish. Crabs are captured all year along, including, in minor scale, during the legal moratorium period from March to April when crabs walk on the surface rather than hide in their burrows. In this period captures can be observed due to the inexistence of governmental subsidies and scarce fiscalization by the Brazilian Federal Environmental Agency (IBAMA) that is responsible for the regulation of crab collection. Glaser and Diele (2004), who studied central aspects of the sustainability of crab fisheries in the Caet estuary, pointed out that these fisheries presented seasonal and annual differences in terms of labor input, capture volumes and productivity. Captures during the dry season (July to December) are estimated at 161 organisms per crab picker while the output per person during the rainy off-season is about 147 crabs per person. The annual crab landings in this region are approximately 1150 t (Diele et al., 2005). The crab pickers work only in this activity during the year and eventually use subsistence fishery during off-season periods. According to Ramos (1999), besides the collection of crabs and fishes the inhabitants collect other resources for local commercialization and/or subsistence such as: mollusks (Mytela falcata, Teredo sp.), firewood and herbs for natural medicines. For the poorest rural families, mangrove products clearly have an

emergency food provision function and constitute the main source of protein in their diet. The capture of U. cordatus in Caratateua, as well as in other localities that are part of the production and commercialization chain for this resource along the Caet estuary, is directed almost exclusively towards the consumer market. Along the coast of Par, the catch of U. cordatus is apparently decreasing in size (Gondim et al., 1998). This endangers the commercial viability of the crab fishery and may lead to competition between crab collectors within the region and bring them into conflicts and territorial disputes with collectors from other regions (Glaser, 2003). These territorial conflicts have been studied in other rural communities, in Bragana (Glaser and Grasso, 1998; Krause and Glaser, 2003; Silva da, 2004). Conflicts over the territory and its natural resources are in direct relationship with the diverging exploitation models (Castro, 1998). Data obtained by Glaser (2003) showed the number of crab collectors in the Caet estuary area increased by 20% between 1996 and 1998. This increase is a result of the demographic growth and of the flow of people who migrate from the interior towards the coast. In face of this crescent expansion in collector's numbers and also of the free access situation to the crab resource in the Caet mangrove estuary, a predatory type of U. cordatus capture has appeared (Glaser, 1999). Therefore, the large male individuals of commercial value are continually decreasing in availability (Glaser, 2003). The mangrove-related commercial production is generating the greatest pressure on crab resources. However, there is no evidence of overfished status of the Caet crab resource, in spite of the strong exploitation of U. cordatus in recent years. At first, some key factors (e.g. selectivity of fishermen and consumers for large male crabs and local artisanal capture techniques) are contributing to prevent an overfishing of the crab population in the Caet mangroves (Diele et al., 2005). These authors also concluded that in this region the social and economic sustainability of the crab fishery will be affected well before the biological one. The increase in crabmeat production is directly associated to the rising demand of crab products on the regional and national market. The conclusion of the construction of PA-458 highway in 1983 linking the fishing communities to the central markets has facilitated this commerce. In order to supply the increasing demand of crab products, the wives and daughters of crab collectors have engaged in the production and marketing chain of crabs, by processing crabmeat in the communities where they live. Similar observations were made in the Guarajubal village (coast of Par, Brazil) by Cardoso (2000). In this study, the author also reported that the work developed by the women in crabmeat processing is relevant for the studies of gender relations in Amazonian fishing communities. Crab processing is an important part of crab marketing in Caratateua and has recently become the primary economic activity of the community, not only in terms of the number of households involved, but because crabmeat actually (since last decade) represents the best way to export this fishery product. Two different systems of crab marketing were observed in Caratateua. The first is the direct sale to the consumer by the crab collector. This kind of trade constitutes a small portion of the overall market. The second system observed is characterized by the presence of a middleman, who advances money to the crab collector in anticipation of acquiring his catch. In this


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system, the crab collector is locked into an informal agreement in which all his production is owed to the middleman and this dependence permits the middleman to set the price for the whole captured crab. In most cases, this transaction benefits the middleman and creates a situation in which the crab collector tends to gather more and more crabs, to compensate for the low price paid for his catches (Blandtt, 1999). The crab bought by the middleman is either sold in natura on nearby markets or processed into crabmeat in the community where it was captured. Once processed, the crabmeat is refrigerated and transported to larger and more distant centers of consumption in the State of Par, such as Belm, Castanhal, Ourm, Paragominas and other big cities in the State. Other Brazilian state capitals, such as Fortaleza, Natal, Recife, Salvador and So Paulo, have also been interested in purchasing the crabmeat that reaches these distant locations through the intervention of middlemen who distribute the product to regional markets, supermarkets and restaurants.


The family works in the crab production process

1995). Studies of coastal fishing communities in Brazil (Diegues, 1983; Furtado, 1987) have shown the difficulties of female work recognition, and this fact has become an obstacle to the conquest of equality and citizenship by women in the work environment. Taking this aspect into account, it is important to evaluate the role of women in crab production. Considering the process as a whole, it is especially important to analyze the activities undertaken by the women in their households. The daily work of these women, even though it is carried out in areas that are distant from the men's workplace, in this case the mangrove, is an important link in the crabmeat production system. The work done by the women leaves the males free to pursue crab gathering full-time. Other activities performed by women in the pre-capture and postcapture processes ratify the importance of their participation in the crab production system chain. The women sew rugged arm sleeves and socks to protect the arms and feet of their husbands while walking in the treacherous mangrove with its aerial root systems. In the post-capture period, the women take over the work, in addition to their multiple activities at home, thus becoming an integral part of the crab market and contributing to the cohesion and stability of the family groups.

The social organization of work in the crabmeat production process in Caratateua is based on units formed by family members and distant relatives, who come to live in their homes. The rules that define the work with respect to working time, specific activities, the territory where the natural resources are exploited, as well as the division of labor by age and sex are all incorporated and implemented by the family unit. The men are responsible for the capture of crabs in the mangrove, mainly because this activity implies a specific knowledge of capture methods. Even though it is dangerous and unhealthy, crab gathering is considered the main economic activity in Caratateua. Within the domestic sphere, the woman is the member of the family unit who exercises control over the workspace and organizes the activities so as to maximize the efficiency of crabmeat production and to ensure the reproduction and the conveying of social and cultural values in the family. It is the women who raise the children, prepare the meals and watch over the health of the other family members. Other activities, such as crabmeat processing, even though they are a vital part of the marketing process, are seen as an extension of their household duties and are undervalued and considered as secondary, as compared to the males' work of crab collecting from the mangrove. This is a consequence of the perception that the daily work done by the women, even though they indirectly contribute to the wellbeing of the family group, is a work for which they earn little or nothing for the family unit, and crab picking is considered a domestic task, even by the women who participate in it, not deserving the same status as the men's work in mangrove fishing and crab collection. These unequal gender relations were also recorded in other studies conducted in Brazil (Simonian, 1995; Campbell, 1996) and in the world (Rubinoff, 1999; Siar, 2003). This kind of labor division by sex is found in most of the rural Amazon counties where the geographical location of the houses and communities is influenced by the presence or diversity of natural subsistence resources. Although some of the resources derived from a kitchen garden are essential to the family group, they are not considered very valuable, due to the fact that they are under the women's responsibility. However, this kind of production sometimes generates a new source of family income (Castro,


Women in the crab-picking operation

In the Caratateua district, crab picking is concentrated essentially in the urban area. In this location, as well as in other areas of the community where crab processing is undertaken, the actual rendering of crabmeat is a simple process and does not require technical expertise. The women's ability to cook and to prepare food for consumption is the most important technique in this process. These culinary abilities have been handed down for generations and are an important aspect of their culture. The following utensils are required to render crabmeat: a large and deep pan of cast iron or aluminum to cook the whole crabs, a large wooden mallet for cracking the crab legs and pincers, a container to place the crabmeat, and a work table where the picking and cracking takes place. Unsanitary conditions in rendering crabmeat are common, even characteristic, in the crabpicking process. The work is done in backyard kitchens by the wives of the crab gatherers, their daughters and other members of the family (Fig. 2). The young adolescents work in crabmeat processing to earn some money to meet their personal needs, such as buying clothes, shoes, schoolbooks and other items that require an extra cash income from the family group. Children and adolescents make up 4% of the work force found in crabmeat processing in the mangrove areas surrounding Bragana (Blandtt, 2002). The age of the crabmeat pickers ranges from 16 to 55 years. Their weekly cash income varies from US$ 4 to 10. Some of the women are single and are the head of their family. In general, the amount of crabmeat rendered by the younger pickers is smaller than that of the older pickers, who have greater experience in the complicated task of picking out the meat from the crab carapace (Fig. 3). Some of the female crab pickers also process crabs captured by crab collectors other than their husbands, and they are paid according to the amount of crabmeat rendered. The women play an intermediary role in the crabmeat industry and have a work relationship that aggregates further value to the production (crab catch) of their husbands. In this case, the higher the

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production of the husbands, the more the wives earn by processing. In some cases, the women may relinquish other traditional domestic duties in order to pick crabs and to increase family income. This phenomenon has led to a rearrangement in the family group that tends to optimize the available work force. During crab processing, the meat extracted from the legs and carapace is separated from the meat extracted from the pincers because their prices are different. Thirty-two large crabs or thirty-five medium to small-size crabs are needed to render a kilogram of meat. Crab picking usually starts early in the morning and proceeds until late afternoon. The average weekly production is 25 kg per family. Middlemen pay about US$ 0.35 for one kilogram of crabmeat. Between the months of April and July (rainy period) the prices rise to 40 cents a kilogram. Crabmeat is sold in supermarkets and regional markets at prices three times higher than those usually paid to the crab pickers. For the women of Caratateua district, crab picking is an important activity in their lives, but it is not an ongoing work, and their participation in the work force depends on the market, the oscillations of employment and unemployment of their husbands and the needs of their children. These circumstances do not allow the women's individualization process to progress and tend to underrate women's work and emphasize their primordial reproductive role in the community. The importance of women, not only in the social environment, but also in the familial relationships, and their traditional knowledge about the utilization of the natural resources, make them a vital part of rural reality. Since women are the main educators and reproducers of the new generations, their importance in the transmission of cultural values and knowledge from one generation to the next is very clear in the community (Alencar, 1997). Although crabmeat processing women do recognize that crab size has been decreasing over the years they do not conjecture any other income sources other than crabmeat processing. The woman figure is preponderantly related to domestic activities while men are responsible for decision-making regarding production methods, quantities fished, processed, sold and exported. With regard to the environmental awareness of Caratateua's pickers' women, it is interesting to underscore

Fig. 3 Frequency, age class and weekly cash income (US$) of women crabmeat pickers.

their knowledge about the life cycle of the mangrove crab and the most adequate period for its capture. The following narrative of a female crab picker is very illustrative: Fat in the months of March and April, when it is growing, right. Then it changes its shell (month of June), and afterward it starts to shrink until the months of October and November when it can grow again. When it is neither fat nor skinny, you can crack its shell at the joint and pull out the meat that comes out in one piece from its shell. When it is fat, we have hard work. We have to break the entire shell to get out the meat. Another factor that makes women very important protagonists in the crab production process is their knowledge about how to cook the crabs. This knowledge consists of techniques that reduce the loss of crabmeat during processing. We buy the crab on the riverbank (port) already quartered. At home we wash it and put it in an onion sack. When the deep pan of cast iron or aluminum is already full of water and steaming, we put in 3 kilos of salt and then we throw the sack inside it. When the water starts to spill from the pan, it is time to take out the crabs. Therefore, it is important to mention that the role of women in the workplace does not concern only their work at home, but also their ability to coordinate the relations between family members and keep them together. This awareness will bring about an economic and familial valorization of these women.



Fig. 2 Photo showing women in the crab-picking operation in the district of Caratateua (Par), North Brazil.

The participation of women in the crab production system is an opportunity for the women of Caratateua to help increase their families' income, making use of available work places on the local market, despite rural women's usual search for employment as servants as occurs in other zones closer to cities with higher populational densities and greater economic development. The work division model adopted in this system is


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marked by gender differences and was perceived by the separation of activities being carried out and the workspace occupied by men and women, respectively. This is one of the factors which is responsible for the poor recognition of women's work, leading to the underrating of women in society, mainly by themselves, limiting the creation and regulation of women's associations and excluding them from retirement benefits. The underrating of women by both genders is one of the characteristics of Brazilian society. Even though they get some recognition for the work they perform in the workplace, women receive little attention for the role they play in the survival strategies of the group and are recognized only for their reproductive abilities. The role they play in the crab industry in Caratateua is considered complementary, even though it is evident that their work is important for the survival of their family. Therefore, when women will be seen not only as housewives, but recognized as an important link that guarantees the relations and maintenance of the family, it will be possible to have more symmetric social relationships.

We wish to thank Dr. Edna Castro for helpful assistance and valuable comments and to all the women that work in the crabpicking operation in Caratateua for their valuable assistance during this research. This research was financially supported by the Coordenao de Aperfeioamento de Pessoal de Nvel Superior (CAPES), Universidade Federal do Par (UFPA) and Ncleo de Estudos Costeiros (NEC).

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