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The demand for mud crab Scylla serrata (Forsskål 1775) in the global market has increased, hence there is growing momentum to farm the species in Africa. Aquaculture production in Kenya and elsewhere in East Africa currently relies on juvenile seeds sourced from the wild. Wild-seed collection calls for management of the juvenile crab industry founded on knowledge of the species’ ecology, so as to achieve a sustainable seed supply and recruitment to the capture fishery. This study investigated the tidal, diurnal and seasonal occurrence of juvenile crabs in three habitats (intertidal-flat boundary zones, inside the mangroves, and in channels) in small creeks (Mida, Kilifi and Mtwapa) and Gazi Bay, on the coast of Kenya. Sampling was done with scoop nets and seining at receding tides and via burrow searches at low spring tides (day and night). Juveniles in the mangrove/intertidal-flat boundary zone were found sheltered under mangrove leaves or debris, or in shallow burrows during low spring tides, whereas at receding tides they could be seen moving out with the tide or searching for sheltering substrate or burrows. Catch per unit effort at high-abundance sites varied between 59 and 68 crabs fisher−1 day–1. More juvenile crabs, sized 10–80 mm internal carapace width (ICW), occurred at night during the receding tide. Net-seining was effective in the collection of juvenile mud crabs <30 mm ICW, whereas burrow sampling was effective for gathering larger crabs. However, collection of juveniles by seining reduced the quality of the crabs caught due to frequent loss of chelipeds, as compared with retrieving individual crabs by searching burrows. Some juveniles collected in the intertidal-flat boundary-zone habitat were either in the process of moulting or had just moulted, indicating the significance of this habitat for mud crabs at this physically delicate life stage.
Keywords: burrows, CPUE, habitat preference, juvenile occurrence, Kenya, seasonal influence, seining, tides