Crabs are a valuable part of the seafood industry and provide a range of products for consumers. While all crabs can be considered together biologically, in terms of production and markets, as well as improvement needs and approach, it makes more sense to split crabs into three categories: swimming crabs, coldwater crabs, and warmwater crabs. Thus, we have three Target 75 sectors for crab. 

Retailers are increasingly concerned about the need for greater sustainability in crab production, specifically in relation to swimming crabs and coldwater crabs. In order to meet this demand, SFP has created Supply Chain Roundtables (SRs) to convene importers, exporters, and processors to press for improvements in crab fishing. There are currently two crab SRs: one that focuses on swimming crab, the Southeast Asian Blue Swimming Crab SR, and the other for coldwater crab, the Russian Far East Coldwater Crab SR.

Since SFP currently lacks leverage for improvements in warmwater crab among our markets partners, there is no roundtable for this T75 sector. However, improvements are still needed still in the warmwater crab sector, and thus SFP focuses on buyer engagement in new markets, predominantly in Asia.

Sub-sectors Covered:

Coldwater crab

Swimming crab

Supply Chain Roundtables:

Southeast Asian Blue Swimming Crab SR
Russian Far East Coldwater Crab SR

Sector Definition

The coldwater crab sector comprises all crabs from coldwater regions (e.g., king and snow crabs) and deepwater crabs from tropical and temperate regions. All production is from wild fisheries. 

Target 75

Based on 2014 production data, 168,200 tonnes, or 41 percent of global production, are currently considered sustainable or improving, as defined using publicly available information on MSC status and FIP progress ratings reviewed in August 2019.

Buyers in North America and northern and western European Union (EU) countries have prompted fisheries to achieve MSC certification and demonstrate strong improvement, though more work is needed to encourage some remaining fisheries to initiate fishery improvement projects (FIPs) and those currently in FIPs to continue improvements. The Russian Far East Coldwater Crab Supply Chain Roundtable (SR) confines its activities to tracking and monitoring the fisheries and improvement objectives of the related FIP, and to providing advice to the market as required. 

Buyers should continue communicating their sustainability demands to suppliers and producers of fisheries in North America and the EU, and encourage expanded participation in MSC or other improvement pathways. 

Please find an overview of production considered in our T75 strategy for the sector here.

Sustainability concerns in this sector include:

  • Impacts of climate change (e.g., ocean acidification) on shellfish is an emerging area of concern and research. A number of recently published studies discuss the potential ecological and economic ramifications of these impacts for crab species in the US west coast and Alaska.
  • Bycatch of endangered, threatened, and protected (ETP) species is an issue in some fisheries, for example threats to the North Atlantic Right Whale in northwest Atlantic fisheries.
  • Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains a concern in some areas.
  • Expansion of export of live crab to China and other Asian countries is diluting the market leverage of importing countries that support sustainability.
  • Other issues (in multiple fisheries, but not all) include stock assessment deficiencies (particularly fishery-independent data), poorly understood abundance and exploitation, overexploitation, poor bycatch control, and compliance issues. 


SFP estimates the coldwater crab sector to have a total global production of 412,300 tonnes (2014 FAO Statistics). The top producing countries are Canada, the United States, Russia, South Korea, the EU, the UK, and Japan.

The main importers are the US, Japan, the EU, and China. Most of the EU’s trade of crabs happens between EU countries. 

Related Documents:

Target 75 sector update: Coldwater crab (2018)

Sector Definition

The swimming crab sector comprises all sources of blue swimming crab (BSC) and crab species that can substitute for blue swimming crab in the market. Species include: blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), blue swimming crab (Portunus pelagicus), red swimming crab (Portunus haanii), and Central American swimming crabs (Callinectes spp.) (i.e., Callinectes spp. from Central American countries only; although the species is distributed beyond Central America). Nearly all of the swimming crab production is wild (less than 1 percent from aquaculture).

Target 75

Based on 2014 production data, 148,200 tonnes, or 35 percent of the global production, are currently considered sustainable or improving, as defined using publicly available information on Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) status and fishery improvement project (FIP) progress ratings reviewed in August 2019. By encouraging action in FIPs that are making poor progress or are recently launched, another 2 percent could be added to the volume of improving fisheries.

Engagement with the Mexican Seafood Supply Chain Roundtable (SR) could feasibly move only an additional 6 percent of global production into the sustainable or improving categories by 2020, which, combined with the current sustainable or improving production, would generate a total of 43 percent. For the remaining, non-improving supply, the focus will need to lie on building leverage in new markets, aside from the NFI Crab Council In the US.

Please find an overview of production considered in our T75 strategy for the sector here.

SFP’s general approach is to convene suppliers and buyers into a Supply Chain Roundtable (SR) and then provide support and guidance in generating activities that promote sustainable management of the fisheries. In this case, the NFI Crab Council serves the function of an SR for the swimming crab fisheries in Southeast Asia. In the Southeast Asian Blue Swimming Crab SR, SFP provides assistance to the NFI Crab Council where necessary, including providing guidance on the approaches the members can take to address any problems in FIPs (e.g., discussing conditions required to rebuild the stocks, monitoring compliance with minimum landing size requirements, etc.). Specifically, SFP assists in the development and implementation of Control Documents in the Indonesian supply chain. Control Documents are meant to assure traceability and legality of the crab products. SFP continues to work with APRI (Asosiasi Pengelolaan Rajungan Indonesia; the Indonesian Blue Swimming Crab Association) and the government on incorporating Control Document traceability data into the health certificate for export process. SFP also works on development of co-management strategies within BSC fishing communities working at the provincial, village, and fisher level. This work further aligns with the NFI Crab Council’s work on identifying Units of Assessment for development of a spawning potential ratio (SPR) indicator for stock sustainability. SFP also provides links to relevant third-party-operated FIPs and associated public reports in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

Despite the considerable effort already taking place, the work of the NFI Crab Council needs to be expanded to include some significant producer countries not yet in FIPs. The main swimming crab producer is China, whose supply is predominantly going to its domestic market. There is also a growing inner-Asian live swimming crab trade. These fisheries are dominated by small-scale fisheries that often require significant long-term improvement efforts in order to put in place robust co-management systems. To succeed, these FIPs need to be sufficiently well-designed and supported over the longer term. 

Sustainability concerns in this sector

Almost all swimming crab fisheries are facing similar challenges, including a lack of nationwide, species-specific stock assessments; inadequate management, enforcement, and monitoring; and insufficient precaution in protecting the stocks. In some regions, there is evidence that stocks are overexploited and/or fishing pressure is too high. Of particular concern in Asia are the landing, harvest, and sale of juvenile crabs and berried females (female crabs bearing eggs) and the declining trend in crab size and catch per unit effort. The small-scale nature of the fishery also produces challenges with vessel registration and limits understanding of the level of fishing effort occurring throughout the fishery. Further, while efforts such as the Control Document initiative in Indonesia are promising, new efforts to improve traceability are needed elsewhere (e.g. China). Finally, there are some significant impacts on bycatch and retained species, especially in bottom trawl and gillnet fisheries; better understanding of these impacts is needed. 


SFP estimates the swimming crab sector to have a total global production of 426,400 tonnes. Top production countries are China, the United States, Indonesia, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.

The market supply chain is dominated by US importers and is well-organized in mobilizing and supporting FIPs in Asia through the NFI Crab Council, as well as some independent efforts (e.g., in Mexico).