The red mangrove crab, Goniopsis cruentata, influences the recruitment and composition of plant species in the mangrove ecosystem and it is an important fishery resource. Nevertheless, no current management and conservation plans are available for this species for the Brazilian coast. This investigation evaluated the population structure and reproductive biology in populations of G. cruentata under contrasting fishery pressures. The sampling program was carried out in two mangroves, Vaza-Barris and Sergipe River, from January through December 2011. Crabs from both mangroves were randomly collected by a professional fisherman during daytime low tide periods, using a fishing rod baited with pieces of a locally abundant gastropod, Pugilina morio, during 20min/area (catch per unit effort). Monthly measurements of air, sediment surface layer and water temperatures were obtained with a digital thermometer and salinity with an optical refractometer. Both crab populations were compared concerning their abundance, body size, sex ratio, size at onset of sexual maturity and fecundity (FI). Abiotic factors (air, water and mud temperature; and salinity) showed no significant differences between sampling localities. A total of 4 370 crabs were sampled, 2 829 from the Sergipe River and 1 541 from the Vaza-Barris River. The abundance and body size of crabs were compared between mangroves, and statistically significant differences were found. The sex ratio for both populations differed from the expected 1:1 ratio, and a significant deviation in favor of juvenile males was obtained, while adults showed a bias toward females. The estimated size at onset of sexual maturity for both sexes was similar in both populations. However, the populations differed significantly in the number and volume of eggs: a higher FI was obtained in females from the Sergipe River, while a higher egg volume was observed in females from the Vaza-Barris River mangrove. These results indicated a tendency to decrease the body size, the abundance of crabs and the reproductive potential of the species, with higher fishing intensities, reinforcing the need to develop a management plan as well as to establish conservation units for G. cruentata in the Northeastern Brazilian coast. Habitat loss in conjunction with long-term overfishing can have irreversible consequences, which can impact not only the populations of commercially exploited crabs, but the dynamics of virtually the entire mangrove ecosystem.

Keywords: body size, fecundity, Grapsidae, management plan, overfishing