By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A BAN on conch exports will not “collapse” the fishing industry, the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA) president said yesterday, adding that the organisation backed efforts to preserve a population that generated 1.6 million pounds in recorded landings last year.
“Fishermen understand that our conch resources are at a critical point and some efforts need to be put in place to preserve the volume of product moving forward,” Adrian Laroda told Tribune Business.
“We support some of the positions being put out by the Department of Fisheries. Limiting the exports may be the first step in the long-term conservation approach, but I couldn’t say whether conch will become extinct or endangered at some point because I don’t know that.
“Anecdotal evidence has suggested that we need to do something because the supply is not as good as it was 20 years ago. I agree that efforts need to be put in place, and we support their efforts in terms of having an organised plan to manage the conch population and any other fisheries sector.”
The BCA president estimated that harvested conch represented less than 25 per cent of fisheries exports.
“Conch is probably less than 25 per cent of our exports because there is a limit on the amount of product we can export,” Mr Laroda said.
“If it is banned I don’t see the collapse of the fishing industry because, at the moment, the local market consumes the vast amount of conch that is harvested and there are periods when fresh conch is scarce.
“Exports may not be such a component that it could deal a negative blow for the entire fisheries sector if they were limited. We haven’t really taken a position on the issue as yet because we haven’t been able to consult everyone,” Mr Laroda said.
Michael Braynen, director of marine resources, told Tribune Business: “We are concerned about the conch population in the Bahamas and its future. It’s something we consider to be quite serious. We are working with the National Trust and other organisations with the view to creating some proposals for the management of the industry.”
He added: “Conch exports have been around 500,000- 600,000 pounds over the last five years, and that is a reflection of the recorded landings, not the quantity of conch harvested in the Bahamas as a whole. Total recorded landings for conch in 2011 were 1.6 million pounds.”
As it relates to limiting or banning the export of conch, Mr Braynen said: “As it is now we do have conch exports, and have had for quite some time. To change that would be a policy decision that, really, I can’t say how unlikely or likely it would be at this time.”
Bahamas National Trust executive director, Eric Carey, recently told Tribune Business that survey results have revealed that the Bahamian conch population is being driven to extinction.
While unable to quantify when, at the present rate of harvesting, the Bahamian conch population would be driven to extinction, Mr Carey said one of the likely recommendations would be that conch exports be banned or limited. The Bahamas currently exports some $3.3 million, or 600,000 pounds, worth of conch per year.
A 2011 report by Community Conch, an organisation involved in the sustainability discussions, revealed that juvenile populations in important Berry Islands nursery grounds had “declined 1,000 times to a few hundred individuals in 2009” when compared to 1980s numbers.
As for Andros, of the eight historic fishing grounds surveyed, only one in 2010 had a large enough adult conch population to permit reproduction.
And, in Exuma, Community Conch found that the adult conch population on Lee Stocking Island had fallen by 91 per cent between 1994 and 2011, with the bank population in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park off by 69 per cent over the same period.
“Conch densities are decreasing in commercially-fished areas to levels that will not sustain the populations,” Community Conch found, noting that fishing grounds in the Berry Islands, Andros and Lee Stocking Island all show evidence for collapsing populations.
Community Conch, in a note sent to the Government last year, said the Department of Marine Resources had recommended ending exports, but this had not been approved. It added that export quotas were exceeded in 2009.
Other solutions mulled were an export tax, such as Jamaica’s $1 per pound; certification for all conch caught and eaten locally/internationally; and getting restaurants to only buy conch sustainable caught.