By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune BUsiness Reporter
THE HARVESTING of juvenile conch remains the single biggest threat to the sustainability of the Queen Conch population in the Bahamas, the The Bahamas National Trust’s (BNT) head saying there were “certainly some warning signals that we need to start taking note of”.
Eric Carey told Tribune Business that the BNT’s ‘Conchservation’ campaign was created to highlight such issues and help ensure Bahamians continue to enjoy the fish in the future.
He said resource assessments had found depletion of conch populations in areas such as the Berry Islands.
“We have a programme that’s basically designed to, over the next few years, make Bahamians aware of the status of conch, and to get Bahamians committed to doing things like cutting out the eating of immature conch or the harvesting of immature conch,” Mr Carey said.
“One of the things that we have to commit to as part of our campaign is to continue to do research. The conchservation campaign also includes research and resource assessment. We have done resource assessments in the Berry Islands, southern Abaco, Andros, and our most recent was in the Ragged Island area.”
Mr Carey added: “Our campaign is not to make getting conch more restrictive, but it is to keep Bahamians eating conch. We don’t want to see conch become listed as an endangered species because what that means, from our perspective, is that the numbers are so low that maybe it’s no longer sustainable.
“We don’t think that is the case yet. Some areas have shown depletion, like in the Berry Islands, and some areas like in Ragged Island chain have shown fairly healthy levels of conch. We need to have more information from around the country, which we will.”
The Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, V Alfred Gray, recently said that placing the Queen Conch on the ‘endangered species list’ could be “catastrophic” for the Bahamas and other Caribbean countries, noting that conch harvesting for local consumption was pumping $6 million annually into this nation’s fisheries sector.
Last year, Wild Earth Guardians, a non-profit environmental activist organisation, filed a petition in the US to list the queen conch under the Endangered Species Act. Such a move would eliminate all conch trade between the Caribbean and the US, which currently imports more than 70 per cent of the remaining regional conch harvest - including some 600,000 pounds, worth roughly $3.3 million a year, from the Bahamas.
“Most of our conch is not exported. Even if the US lists it as endangered, that 600,000 pounds would be distributed throughout the Bahamas,” said Mr Carey.
“The threat to conch is the harvesting of juvenile conch, that’s the real issue. There is some concern. Is there alarm? Not yet. We don’t think we have reached alarm status yet.
“I think we have an opportunity with conch, unlike with a lot of other species, where we still have a huge potential for success. In our business, often globally, we’re trying to save something that is almost beyond salvaging from an economic point of view. We’re not alarmed as yet, but there are certainly some warning signals we need to start taking note of.”