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Crab, Siri and Aratu:

Crustacean Fishing Techniques

Lu Andrade - Fisherwoman

The main species fished by women are various kinds of crabs. These are usually sold, but also consumed, depending on the need and availability of other foods or money to buy them. Each species is caught with a specific technique, with some communities being more specialized in a certain species, and other communities capturing “everything the mangrove provides.” This difference is based on several parameters. For example in Atalaia, even though there are many aratus, they do not customarily fish for them. In Barra Velha or Campinhos, people say that they take everything the mangrove gives. The greater isolation of these communities probably reduces access to other food and other income. Thus, one can produce income from the capture and processing of a single species and eat these and/or other species in the mangrove, or one can also sell different species, depending on what the mangrove offers, as long as there is knowledge of each species, its reproductive cycles, fishing locations, capture, processing and storage techniques.

Leaving for the mangroves

Preparation for going to the mangrove is similar regardless of what one is fishing for. It is necessary to protect yourself from the sun, mosquitoes, and getting cuts on your feet or hands when walking through the mangrove. Therefore, women generally wear pants and long-sleeved blouses and boots. However, the appropriate boots, which are diver boots, as they fit well on the foot and prevent the entry of mud and moisture, are very expensive and wear out quickly. Women must find other solutions. For example, Dona Ana showed us a type of boot made from jeans, which stays firmly attached to the feet and protects them from cuts from oysters and branches. Another issue is bug repellent, as many of the women do not have money to buy powerful repellents to ward off the large number of mosquitoes in the mangrove. Instead they use diesel oil on their faces, ears, and hands (areas not protected by clothing), which causes allergies and can lead to serious skin diseases.

Dona Ana in jean boots

The fishing location depends on several factors as the good fishing spots for each species are known and frequented until they become  bad fishing spots “that are not working”. There are places more suitable for one species or another. Depending on what they want, they look for the appropriate places, but the “big tide” (which happens during the full and new moons) is better for all shellfish. As the tide comes in, taking more crustaceans to the mangrove, and it recedes more, leaving the mangrove more exposed for shellfish capture.



The aratu is crab species that is reddish black and is the main species sold in the Canavieiras RESEX. Fishing takes place in the dry areas of the mangrove. It is best caught when the tide is receding, low, and when it first starts to rise. The most common bait is the so-called “almofada”, a small crustacean that walks along the mangrove branches and is easily captured by hand, but pieces of other aratus can also be used. With Lu Andrade, from Puxim do Sul, we fished from inside the canoe, pulling up to the more open banks of the mangrove and spending some time there and then moving on to a new bank. However, most of the aratu fisherwomen fish by walking through the mangrove. They go by canoe to a good place, and get out of the canoe, and enter the forest. There they sit on a “gaiteira” (name given to the branches of the mangrove trees) and begin fishing.

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Feet in the mud

When fishing from a canoe, you stick the paddle in the bottom of the river, and attach it to a rope so that it doesn't move. The bucket is used to hold the aratus. When fishing from the branches of the trees, before climbing up, the bag (generally a food bag, due to its study plastic) is positioned on the ground below the branch where the fisherwoman will be, using two branches ripped right there from the tree and called “fusquilha.” One serves to hold the bag above the ground and the other keeps the opening of the bag fixed from one side of the bag's mouth to the other. This arrangement is essential as the aratu fishing technique involves quickly throwing the animal into the bag/bucket. Then they tear off some leaves from the branches, break them into smaller pieces, and throw them on the ground where they want to fish, then hit the branches with the stick and whistle. The fisherwomen explained to me that the “zuada” (noise) attracts the aratus, who appear curious to see what is happening. When they start to appear, the fisherman hits the bait tied to the end of her rod line on the ground, also making a specific noise. Then the aratus run and grab the bait. At this moment, it takes a lot of agility to quickly launch them in one movement into the bucket or bag, so that they do not come loose from the bait and fall along the way. When small aratus/pups bite their bait, they generally shake the stick to release it. The common wisdom dictates that they need to be allowed to grow and reproduce, maintaining the balance of life mangrove.

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Fishing for Aratu

The women typically stay in this rhythm for a while, and then when the aratu become more scarce, they move to a new spot. In the case of those walking through the mangrove, the walk is atop the branches, which requires a lot of coordination, or through the mud, which requires a lot of strength. Both forms of movement are dangerous. Walking through the branches, there is a risk of falling, as many are rotten and break. While walking through mud, the constant contact with humidity causes many diseases, as does excessive pressure on the legs which can lead to circulatory diseases. I heard reports of falls that caused permanent damage to the bodies of fisherwomen, as well as many stories of illnesses developed by prolonged contact with the mud and even cases in which the mud “almost swallowed” the person. Furthermore, all movement within the mangrove is carried out carrying the bag of crabs, which can weigh several kilos. Thus, fishing for Lu Andrade, by canoe, is less risky., in general, it yields less , which for those who live exclusively from fishingincome is not viable. Furthermore, not all women have canoes. Many of them need to walk to the mangrove or go in large groups in a canoe to the location and then they need to spread out from there.

Fishing for Aratu

When the tide begins to rise, they return to their homes. Each one will turn to their processing strategy. Ideally, processing should be done on the same day, or at most the next day, to freeze what has already been cleaned. However, each woman finds a way to adapt. Some pay others to process it so they can handle all production, and others freeze the aratu without processing it and then thaw it. Others say this interferes with its flavor and texture. Mara, a great fisherman from Barra Velha, told me that she freezes it already cooked and then, to process it, boils it again, as this way it maintains its flavor and texture. Dona Ana, on the other hand, told me that as soon as she catches two kilos she goes home, so she has time to process what she has caught.

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Nathalia and Railane harvesting aratu

Aratu is always sold frozen. A good aratu harvest generates around 3kg/day, which translates to approximately 240 and 300 aratus, but there are days when only 1/2 kg is caught, arond 40 aratus. Lately, aratu fisherwomen have faced great difficulty in fishing them, as it has become common to capture the species at night, as the crab is easily attracted by the light of a flashlight. Night fishing is mostly done by men, however, as nighttime is generally more dangerous for women and conflicts with household and childcare responsibilities. Furthermore, night fishing captures aratus of all sizes, and so many younger crabs do not reproduce before being captured. Fisherwomen say this has also contributed to the reduction in the number of aratus in the mangrove.


Crab in a bag

Caranguejo fishing happens in two ways: by sticking your hand inside the crab's hole, or by setting a trap. In the past, a lot of crabs were caught during the “walk,” a period in which the animal goes out to mate and is more exposed and slower. Another older technique entailed  using the “little net” in which a tangle of line was positioned at the entrance to its hole. However, environmental legislation currently prohibits the capture of crabs during mating these periods, as well as the use of  this type of trap. Such prohibitions protect the animal and reduce the capture of crablets.


Siri is caught in the water, from inside the canoe. It is fished when the tide is incoming or high, as Aninha and Luana, two great fisherwomen from the community of Atalaia, explained to me. Before going fishing, it is important to pay attention to the tides, as leaving and returning with the canoe requires a certain amount of water to navigate, otherwise, you may get stuck in some part of the mangrove until the tide rises again. To fish for Siri, you can use the “siripóia”, a hoop that supports a net where the bait is tied, throwing it into the water; or line, in which you tie a bait to the end of the line and throw the line into the water with the help of a stick or a plastic bottle cut.


Fishing with a line and a hook

With the siripoia, the crab enters the center of the submerged trap to get the bait. Therefore, it is necessary to lift the trap out in order to check for siri. However, as Luana and Aninha drew my attention to many times, it cannot be lifted too often, as it is necessary to give the crab time to enter the trap. When the siripoia, is lifted and the crab has been caught, the trap is removed from the water and the crab is thrown into the bucket in the canoe.


When fishing with a line, it is easier to feel the animal bite the bait and then pull the line slowly, at the same time positioning the “puçá” (a type of stick with a net at the end) below the crab and then capture it and throw it into the bucket in the canoe. The bait can be made with small pieces of caught fish or even pieces of crab. Fish are attracted to the smell of the bait and, therefore, it is important to position yourself so that the current spreads the smell of the bait throughout the mangrove, attracting the fish. After being caught, the siri are boiled.

Siri fishing in Atalaia with Aninha and Luana

The different species have their own particularities, just as their fisherwomen have their preferences and techniques for catching them. Siri fishing is easier, but yields less quantity and requires a canoe, better bait, and more tools. Aratu fishing is more accessible since the bait is made from the mangrove itself and the tools are quite basic, but due to the size of the animal, large quantities are needed to make money. Caranguejo has the highest market value, but is the most difficult to catch and collect, as its shell is very hard.

Luana - Crab fisherwoman

Among the many possibilities that the mangrove offers them to survive, these women vary their techniques and species as guided by their needs, their conditions, their life experiences, and family knowledge. The mangrove is dangerous, and the life of fisherwomen and collectors is a hard life, full of pain, illness, and fatigue. But still, these women love their jobs. They love the mangroves, the environment, and the peace they feel there. Crustacean fishing is not merely a financial, but an emotional, way of life. I heard repeatedly how good they feel when they are in the mangrove, in the tranquility of that environment. Many who can no longer go due to their health conditions suffer in the mangroves absence from their lives. Being a fisherwoman is not just a profession, but a way of life, a culture that makes up their identity.

Women's Network against Structural Machismo
Communities in the Canavieiras Extractive Reserve
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Crab, Siri and Aratu
Crab, Siri and Aratu
Processing and Selling
Living from the Mangrove: Embarracar
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