By PAUL G TURNQUEST
CONCERNS have been raised over the Bahamas’ exportation of conch into the United States after a petition for the marine resource to be registered as a “endangered species” was submitted to the US Secretary of Commerce by a non-profit environmental organisation.
Marine Resources Director Michael Braynen admitted to The Tribune yesterday that the future of conch being traded internationally is “not bright at all.”
“This is only one of many efforts that have been made, with the future without doubt being that the end of the
international trade of conch is on the horizon,” he said.
In the petition, submitted by Wild Earth Guardians, the queen conch is being threatened mainly by water pollution and the degradation of seagrass beds, overutilization for commercial purposes, and the lack of regulatory mechanisms to manage the unsustainable harvest or widespread practice of illegal fishing.
With the Bahamas exporting almost 600,000 pounds of conch meat to the United States last year at a value of over $3.3 million, the Department of Marine Resources’ director said that this impending reality will undoubtedly hurt many local fishermen.
“I think that one of the reasons we have a conch export industry now is that seafood dealers say that the amount of conch produced by Bahamian fishermen exceeds the demand for conch on the local market. So if the exports were no longer possible, it would seem to me that the catch by fishermen of conch would either decrease, or they would have to do something to ensure that the local market consumes the conch that they are landing. But at the present time they say that the landings exceed the local demand.
“In the Bahamas, conch has long been an important source of food. We will still be able to use our resource of conch for ourselves if they are able to be maintained. But when that (ban) happens, you are stuck. There is nothing you can do. This will certainly hurt some people. But maybe we can use conch as a selling point, where people would have to come to the Bahamas to get some.”
Representing an area that has a large population that relies heavily on the fishing industry, Long Island MP and FNM deputy leader Loretta Butler-Turner said that this news concerns her and her constituents greatly.
“This will greatly impact the income of persons who now rely on fishing. I think that it would be imperative for our government to make representation to the United States that we have implemented regulation and conservation measures, such as our marine parks for this sole purpose. The only real resource we have is our seafood, our marine resources. What is going to happen on these family islands when this comes into place? What happens to other islands like Spanish Wells?” she asked.
According to the petition by Wild Earth Guardians, the conch species has been in decline throughout its range and continues to face overwhelming threats from overfishing and illegal harvest, as well as water pollution and degradation of shallow-water nursery grounds.
The queen conch is especially vulnerable to overfishing and recovery of the species will be significantly hampered by the already low adult densities in many areas, the report reads.
“Current regulatory regimes, both national and international, have been proven inadequate by the continuing unsustainable harvest and high levels of illegal fishing in direct contravention of legal agreements. Listing the queen conch under the endangered species act (ESA) would provide essential protection for this species by eliminating the US import market, which currently drives a substantial majority of conch exports. In addition, ESA listing would allow for designation of critical habitat to protect vital nursery grounds and existing spawning stock,” it said.
In the Bahamas, our conch population stocks, according to the report, in shallow water areas was being overfished; with our deep water stocks approaching the status of overfishing. Our nearest neighbours to the south, the Turks and Caicos Islands were said to have a generally stable population, but however they showed signs of overfishing with reports of an “unknown level” of poaching. In Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the report stated that their conch stocks were “seriously overfished”, and that their current harvest of mostly juvenile conch was “unsustainable.” Illegal harvesting and poaching was also noted in the Dominican Republic.