SINGAPORE - The supply of mud crabs to Singapore has fallen due to bad weather and increased demand, but restaurants have yet to raise prices.
Ocean Keris, a major supplier, has seen its supply of crabs from South-east Asia and Africa fall by about 30 per cent this year.
Their supply of about 50 to 100 tonnes a month has been hit by a trifecta of factors. While Singaporeans think of mud crabs as "Sri Lanka crabs", the mangrove mud crabs now come from Indonesia, the Philippines, India and the east coast of Africa.
Ocean Keris director Lanson Lim said that the recent bad weather in South-east Asia has affected the catch. At the same time, higher temperatures resulted in 10 to 15 per cent more crabs dying in transit.
Tradeocean International has also seen a drop in the last few weeks. Manager Louis Tan cited climate change as another contributing factor. Their main supply of mud crabs is from Indonesia.
In general, he has observed that shortage in supplies often occur in the first half of the year, and especially during festive periods.
He said that the recent hot weather has exacerbated the supply crunch, resulting in a fall of about 30 per cent.
In the long term, he foresees that stronger demand from China and climate change will "negatively impact" supply to Singapore.
"We also foresee that the availability of the larger sized crabs will be reduced over the years, partly because the increasing demand of mud crabs in the region is not allowing the crabs to grow to a much bigger size before they are caught," he told ST.
"Prices have been generally trending upwards over the years."
Suppliers now sell the crabs at $20 to $50 per kg, he said.
Mr Lim of Ocean Keris has also seen greater interest in the mud crabs from Chinese buyers, who used to buy other varieties of crab.
"Chinese restaurants are also catching on to eating the larger crabs, so we are competing with them," he said, adding that they offer higher prices for the crabs.
He estimates the price from supplier to restaurant has edged up slightly, by about 10 per cent.
However, Mr Babu Niyas, manager at Delta Foods says the fall in supply for them is seasonal, and this year has not been worse.
He attributes the recent shortfall, which was up to 70 per cent, to seasonal dry weather in India and Sri Lanka, where they get most of their crabs. Delta Food imports about half a tonne of mud crabs a day.
"It's like that every year during this period," he said. "Supply only improves after June when the rain starts, when demand is low."
He added that demand is low as festivities are concentrated in the first half of the year.
One Singapore restaurant, House of Seafood, has noticed the fall in supply. In the last week of March, the supply fell by about 40 per cent, said restaurant owner Francis Ng.
While the supply has always been cyclical, this fall was unexpected for the chain, which has three seafood restaurants.
But they will not be raising prices, he said.
"We are lucky because we have vacuum-packed crab, so we still have ample stocks," he said.
The restaurant introduced a crab vending machine in January at a Punggol Settlement outlet. The three flavours of crabs - chilli, black pepper and salted egg yolk - come in vacuum-sealed plastic boxes.
They will tell the customers up front if they are serving them the pre-packed crabs, but so far the reception has been good, he said.
However, a spokesman from restaurant chain Jumbo said they have not noticed a shortfall recently.
"Shortage does happen infrequently, but Jumbo minimises this by having about 20 crab suppliers, with crabs coming from about five countries," he said.
Mr Tan had some advice for crab meat lovers.
"Between August to November, crabs are likely to be cheaper, and the quality better," he said.