Crab Company Fiji Feels The Pinch

Managing director Wilco Liebregts said sales had dropped to 70 per cent, because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
16 Apr 2020 09:46
Crab Company Fiji Feels The Pinch
Fresh from the farm, salt water prawns from The Crab Company Fiji in Navua. File Photo

The Crab Company Fiji is facing a huge drop in prawn sales.

Managing director Wilco Liebregts said sales had dropped to 70 per cent, because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Speaking from Papua New Guinea, he said Fiji’s tourism sector made up 80 per cent of the company’s customer base.

“That market has vanished almost overnight,” Mr Liebregts said.

Fiji’s only commercial prawn farm

The Crab Company Fiji is Fiji’s only commercial producer that consistently grows, and supplies sea prawns in large volumes and assorted sizes to the hospitality industry and other local markets.

At present, the farm has over a million prawns in stock at its Navua farm.

Mr Liebregts said millions of dollars were invested in farming facilities in Raviravi, Ba, and Navua.

The Crab Company has a hatchery in Ba.

“Over a period of three to four weeks, the spawned eggs are reared from the post-larval stage until they are large enough for transfer to the farm in Navua where they are stocked in ponds,” Mr Liebregts said.

Depending on the market sizes required, prawns take as many as five months to mature, he said.

“The cooler weather in May to October will tend to slow growth somewhat,” Mr Liebregts said.

The farm employs experienced specialists who supervise and train the staff and provide the needed know-how on how best to adapt production processes to the Fiji climate and environment, he said.

“This can take quite some time, as there are no relevant training programmes in Fiji.”

Mr Liebregts said the hatchery can produce several million post larvae seed prawns a month.

Profits elsewhere

Fresh-from-the-farm prawns are a preference for most customers, he said.

“Up to the present time, the company has focused on supplying the domestic market with its Fiji grown prawns and reducing the imports of frozen prawns to Fiji.

“The current crisis has forced the company to look at export opportunities sooner than it had originally planned.”

Mr Liebregts said recent testing done by Secretariat of the Pacific Community, proved Fiji was free from the major viral diseases that affected prawn production in Asia and most other markets worldwide.

The company’s Raviravi hatchery is certified by the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji as a post-entry quarantine facility, meaning that it has installed the necessary safety mechanisms and protocols to minimise the risk to the local environment, fish and fauna.

Built in the 70s

The ponds were constructed in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr Liebregts said the mangrove forests that surround ed the ponds helped protect the farm from wave erosion and storm surges.

The Fiji Development Bank initially financed the project to establish the hatchery and upgrade production systems, he said.

“The company continues to research and employ new technologies to improve efficiency, profitability and expand production to supply the Fiji markets.”

The company started with a small hatchery in 2011, at a time when many thought it was not possible to produce  crablets from eggs., Mr Liebregts said.

Since then the company has diversified into prawn farming.

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