BY DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
FREEPORT – The harvesting of undersize conch is a serious problem in Grand Bahama – where in a single incident this week more than 300 juvenile specimens were removed from the sea off West End.
Local marine biologist Gail Woon and Bahamian fisherman David Rose are speaking out against the illegal practice, which they said is negatively affecting the Bahamian conch population.
They join other scientists and experts in calling for a closed season on conch, and said the mollusc should be should be landed alive and in the shell for inspection by fishery officers.
Mr Rose said conch numbers have declined steadily in Grand Bahama and around the country.
“The amount of conch being consumed in restaurants, particularly in Nassau, is astonishing,” he said.
Ms Woon, founder of Earthcare Bahamas, said: “I think there should definitely be a closed season (for conch) in the summer months when reproduction is at its highest for the queen conch.”
She noted that a great deal of “fishing pressure” is placed on conchs during the summer when the lobster season is closed.
“A lot of lobster fishermen turn to conch as an alternative until the lobster opens, and it is not good that while conch is in its highest reproductive activity they are being fished,” Ms Woon said.
She thinks a closed season for lobster and conch should coincide since they reproduce at the same time.
Ms Woon said the closed season on conch does not have to run as long as it does for lobster.
Mr Rose agrees with her.
“The summer is when we should be protecting the conch just like the lobster because that’s when they lay their eggs,” he said.
At the moment, he said, fishermen are allowed to harvest conch at sea, but there is no way to determine once they are skinned and bagged if any were undersize.
“Bringing the conchs to market alive in the shell is a better way of ensuring that conchs are the legal size,” Mr Rose said.
In order to curtail the capture of undersize conch, Mr Rose believes that government should offer some sort of incentive to fishermen to bring conch in alive for inspection.
He also thinks that government should stop setting quotas for conch exports.
He said: “Every year the Department of Fisheries set quotas. One time ago, the quota was 500,000, and then it went down to 450,000, and then 300,000. And each time, they never met the quotas which mean that it was set too high or that there were not enough conchs out there to meet the quota.”
Ms Woon said new research being conducted by a group called Community Conch revealed that the species actually reaches sexual maturity at an older age than previously thought.
“We thought that once the conch had a flared lip that it is sexually matured and will reproduce, but researchers have found that it may not be the case,” she said.
According to Community Conch, reproductive maturity does not come until 6-7 years of age.
The scientists found gonadal development directly related to the significant thickness of the flared lip of the queen conch shell. This means that successful sexual reproduction occurs when the conch have a flared lip of at least 15mm thickness.
“I think we have to go back to legislation because once you find out something of a scientific nature, and find that to be a proven fact, then you have to work it into legislation for that particular species,” she said.