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80% Conch Drop Threatens Lives Of 9,000 Fishermen

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

THE livelihoods of more than 9,000 Bahamian fishermen and their families are under threat from the 80 per cent conch population decline since the 1980s, it has been revealed.

An Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report, accompanying a $500,000 project to enhance 'community-based conch management' in the Family Islands, warned that overfishing and environmental degradation were making fishing "economically unviable for many.

It added that the reduced conch population was also impacting a key source of food security and foreign currency earnings, with conch exports totalling more than $2.3 million in 2015.

The project, which will be executed by the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy, aims to develop sustainable conch fisheries harvesting and management practices in two Grand Bahama communities as an initial pilot.

"Conch is an important source of income for Bahamian communities, a staple in their diet and is important to cultural identity," the IDB paper said. "This resource contributes to food security for economically-challenged fishing communities in New Providence and the Family Islands, and represents the second most valuable marine export of the Bahamas.

"In 2015, the quantity of conch meat exported was 401,838 pounds, which was valued at $2.343 million." This places it second being crawfish/lobster as the Bahamas' main seafood export, but the IDB report added: "More significant than its importance as an export product, the majority of conch landed in the Bahamas is consumed locally.

"Local consumption was estimated at 1.3 kilograms per capita per year in 2010 and 2011. In addition to their importance for food security and as an export product, conch also play a critical role in the health of marine ecosystems such as seagrass beds, which themselves provide nursery grounds for other commercially important species such as lobster and help buffer coasts from storms."

Pointing out that conch has been a key food source for generations, the IDB report said: "Closely linked with conch's cultural value is its provision of jobs, such as for fishermen, processors, buyers, restauranteurs, vendors, boat makers and other positions throughout the value chain.

"The exact number of conch fishers and other livelihoods supported by conch in the Bahamas is not well documented. The most recent fisheries censuses, conducted in 1995, estimated 9,300 commercial fishers and 18,000 recreational fishers in the Bahamas, although the exact proportion of fishers targeting conch is not known.

"This means that approximately 15 per cent of the labour force is working full-time or part-time in the fisheries sector or related businesses, and that about a quarter of households derive some income from fisheries or related business."

Acknowledging the threat from foreign poachers, the IDB paper said illegal harvesting and unsustainable fishing practices was a "widespread problem" in the Caribbean.

"While the Bahamas is fortunate in being one of the few countries in the Caribbean where conch can still be harvested and exported, stocks are declining due primarily to overharvesting, including from foreign fishers, and habitat degradation," it warned.

"Overfishing, particularly of juveniles, increasingly undermines the sustainability of the conch fishery throughout the country. The density of mature conch on the ocean floor is crucial for the reproduction of queen conch, while the density thresholds recommended by scientists and policy makers to support breeding is between 50 and 100 adult conch per hectare.

"Densities in the Bahamas have dropped since the 1980s from 50 per hectare to 10 per hectare, a density too low to sustain reproduction. Low queen conch densities observed at several Family Islands such as Andros Island suggest that queen conch fishing is no longer viable in some locations.

"Accordingly, low population levels have made conch fishing economically unviable for many fishers, and natural disasters (tropical storms) pose serious risks for the resilience of fishers. In general, consumers are uninformed about the severity of the resource depletion, limiting the ability for fishers to capture benefits from fishing sustainably. The decline in conch stocks threatens the livelihoods of over 9,000 fishers who are considered vulnerable with limited alternative employment opportunities."

The IDB paper said the BNT had launched a nationwide 'conchservation' campaign to raise awareness about the economic, health and environmental implications of conch depletion and overfishing. It added that 10 per cent of the Bahamas' nearshore coastal environment was now under protection from the 51 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that cover almost 13 million acres.

However, only a few MPAs had fisheries management plans, and the IDB paper said: "If stocks are to be restored and community livelihoods maintained, there is a need to provide multiple incentives to fishers and their families to change behaviour towards more sustainable fishing practices."

It added that research had shown the most effective way to achieve this was via a community-based approach, where fishermen were given exclusive rights to fish in particular areas, and provided with access to new markets, new gear, training and other assistance.

"Evidence in the Caribbean and worldwide shows that this community-based approach to fisheries management is more sustainable in the long term, particularly in remote archipelagos where enforcement by fisheries authorities faces constraints," the IDB paper said.

"However, there is little to no experience in using a community-based approach for managing conch in the Bahamas. Through a combination of community-based fisheries management, improved economic return from diversification of income and/or added-value products, and the creation of a local market for sustainably-fished conch, this [project] seeks to align economic incentives to reduce poverty in one of the most vulnerable segments of the Bahamian population with environmental sustainability and develop a model that can be replicated in other regions of the Bahamas."

Comments

B_I_D___ 1 month ago

Stop exporting conch!!

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sheeprunner12 1 month ago

Stop Dominicans from diving conch

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DaForestMayor 1 month ago

Maybe it’s Time to do Mass Farming of Both Conch and Lobster.

Out The Box.

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stillwaters 1 month ago

Once we eat all the conch, it's gone, bro. Fishermen should have been leading the fight against conch extinction, but instead, they led the attack!!!!

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BahamaPundit 1 month ago

There is stupid and then there is us. We saw how conch was depleted in Florida and elsewhere, yet did and do NOTHING to conserve it here. To me, that is the height of stupidity.

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stillwaters 1 month ago

Exactly, now we have a pity party for fishermen? Really?

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sheeprunner12 1 month ago

Both the fishermen and the consumers will lose ......... so do not point fingers. Our country will lose if we allow spiny lobster, grouper, snapper, and conch be fished out due to greed and shortsightedness .......... All of the fishing grounds around us are either depleted or destroyed ........ Why should we sit by and watch ours go the same way????? ....... We need to do better NOW.

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Greentea 1 month ago

Yeah but tell that to the politicians who think they are doing something opening up our lobster industry to export to China- a country whose insatiable appetite for seafood has led to the depletion of fishing resources where ever they have roamed.

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Porcupine 1 month ago

The point of the matter is; we may still have time to preserve this valuable species in our own home waters. We know that the statistics from these studies can't include the vast majority of under-reported harvesting. The question is not how well the commenters on this page see the bigger picture, It is now about what are we going to do about it now that we have the information in front of us. Could this be like all the other issues we have been faced with? Continuing conversations stopped short of reason by religion, misinformation, ignorance and xenophobia? Or, for once, can we step up to the plate and make sound decisions based on reality, science and the understanding that our choices have consequences, and a true regard for those others in our society and those yet to come? In other words, can we for once, actually do the right thing.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month ago

Think you're correct. Ok, what does that look like? What's the first maybe five steps. Asking cuz I don't know. What would incentivize the fishermen to help, what would make the Bahamian consumers as a whole get behind the cause. I guess maybe showing the trend that happened in other depleted fishing grounds and how that correlates to where we are, also maybe not telling the fishermen what to do but asking them for advice given that they need food and school fees today

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Porcupine 1 month ago

First 5 steps? Lemme try. 1. Educate as to the law and base its importance on the emergent science. 2. Enforce the law. We need more Out Island Fisheries officers. 3. Ban exports. This will help raise the "real" value. most importantly taking into consideration conch as an important food source of Bahamians. Try placing an honest value on having food to eat. Conch would become a more valued seafood resource only able to be had by visiting The Bahamas by tourists. 4. Revitalize an aquaculture program that includes conch and spiny lobster. Note: They have both been tried before, here in The Bahamas. Now, it is ever more important they succeed 5. Use technology to patrol, and to interdict poachers, impounding more vessels, imposing stiffer fines and keeping our operational costs to a minimum. Hint: This is not achieved by using multi-million dollar vessels that nobody seems able to operate or keep running.

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ThisIsOurs 1 month ago

Good steps, think a big one is figuring out how to incentivize fishermen not to overfish conch by some means other than penalizing them for doing it. Maybe get the fishermen involved in this aquaculture program. It would have to be subsidized though, maybe IDB would be willing, the fishermen have to be making as much as they would if they were out fishing. Do you know how long it takes for a program to be ready to be farmed?

Interesting we've been thinking of "farming" in terms of fruits and vegetables, but maybe seafood is the gold mine, don't know.

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sheeprunner12 1 month ago

THIS IS THE PERFECT TIME TO BEGIN COMMERCIAL FISH FARMING OF CRAWFISH AND SNAPPER ...... LIKE IN JAPAN AND NORWAY ....... WE HAVE THE PERFECT COASTAL BAYS AND OFFSHORE GRASS SHALLOWS TO GROW ANY FISH PRODUCT.

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Porcupine 1 month ago

You are correct. However, the challenges are many. Not necessarily environmentally. All projections for the demand of seafood look very good. Prices will rise. You need the investment, licensing from the various Bahamian agencies, A stable work force, an honest work force and caring, respectful and helpful community. If you do it first, I'm sure others will follow.

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sheeprunner12 1 month ago

They do it all over Asia ......... Just go on-line and they grow every type of shellfish and fish right in the ocean ...... Check the Panama project ..... We are just slow to change UNTIL it will be too late. We need to give incentives to open sea fish farming now and cut back on fishing seasons of the open sea ...... Do that for 10 years and things will change.

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joeblow 1 month ago

Fishermen are to blame. They refuse to use common sense. If you take juvenile fish, conch and lobster you ensure the extinction of those species. Guess we will have to settle for lion-fish cerviche!

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ThisIsOurs 1 month ago

If that's what they have to do to eat, we can't just tell them not to do it. We have to somehow show them how changing habits will help in the long run AND how they can make the same money in another sustainable way. Don't know anything about fishing shame on me, but I do know people like to eat and they need to work to eat. Won't matter if eating today means you won't eat ten years from now. Eating today will always take priority over starving today.

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sheeprunner12 1 month ago

The predatory greed of the commercial fishing fleets that are owned by certain well placed politicians and merchants (excluding the Segillians) are to blame ..... they are the ones with the boat loads of foreigners who are "engineers" but are really compressor fishermen.

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BahamaPundit 1 month ago

I noticed at Fish Fri recently my favorite conch man was giving me two small conchs in my scorch, instead of one big one like they used to. It makes perfect sense now. The fishermen are harvesting illegal juvenile conchs. This must be policed and stopped. Start at Arawak Cay and fine those violating the law by harvesting undersized conchs.

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Greentea 1 month ago

You should have refused to eat that- but didn't and frankly that is part of the problem. Fishermen keep kicking the can down the road and they have convinced themselves that they are in the business of supply and demand. We are addicts, so supply will be done soon. Many years ago I was doing some work in Curacao and went to their dock for fresh fish and found conch -which I promptly bought. The conch was so big I was able to make dinner and eat from it for two days- ONE conch. Even then the conchs down south were bigger than ours so its not that we are the only people with it. However, we are probably the only ones willing to sell it and our future for a bowl of porridge.

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scampi75 1 month ago

It's so frustrating that these cries have fallen on deaf Government ears. Hard to believe that local consumption is greater than exports, something I would like to challenge. The two most vexing problems are harvesting undersize conch and exports. Stop this and there should be conch for generations to come

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DiverBelow 1 month ago

Quit taking the MATURE BREEDERS, A THICK LIPPED CONCH IS MATURE & she will lay many egg masses a year. Every trip I make I see many many pick-up trucks loaded up with MATURE THICK LIPPED CONCH in the hundreds!!! You wont get milk if you kill the dairy cow. Management is simple: 1. Cut back on number of LEGAL COMMERCIAL CONCH FISHERMEN, those catching to sell, not the guy providing conch for his family. 2. Monitor & penalize if you are selling without a commercial license. 3. Set a Standard, Enforce & Adhere to it. Size & Quantity is easiest & most common. I would add a short "shell thickness measure device" made from plastic, carried while you dive, if lip is thicker than 5/16" (or1/2") leave it to produce more conch for you later. 4. Educate, EDUCATE. a conch takes 4-5 years for sexual maturity! Longer than a cow's 2yrs. Mature conch can live 50+ yrs evidenced by a very very thick lip). As a conch grows, they are creating their colorful shell on the inside where the meat is not on the outside, thus their living space inside the shell grows smaller as they age. An OLD VERY THICK LIPPED MATURE CONCH WILL HAVE TOUGH HARD MEAT FROM MANY MANY YEARS OF DRAGGING THAT SHELL AROUND. SHE IS REPRODUCING, LET HER GO.

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banker 1 month ago

I am wondering if the 80% drop is recoverable? We have seen fish stocks totally collapse around the world -- notably the cod on the Grand Banks in the North Atlantic. At least in the Atlantic, there is a strong coast guard to enforce the moratorium. This is serious stuff. I am for am scared of the future.

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Porcupine 1 month ago

The 80% drop is recoverable, once humans disappear from the planet. All indications are this will happen. Either through nuclear war or the trashing of the planet and the other species we are dependent upon, such as the bees. We are not quite so smart as we would like to believe. Some see it as prophesy. I would call it intellectual immaturity and hubris by humans.

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DiverBelow 1 month ago

Managing any resource, be it water to animal or mineral, is to recognize the limit of what amount allows that stock to replace itself (the budget) and stay within those parameters as a knowledgeable harvester.
Managing a resource requires effort, respect & funding, without these the illicit nature of any individual can mushroom into a greedy thrashing of the resource & everything associated or near it. Look at the gold rush in Ecuador & the resulting damage to the local rain forest. PS.: Our children are the resources of our future. The 80% is recoverable with discipline. The nature of conch growth, with it's current loving floating larvae, insinuates that what is happening with local breeders, as well as in the outer islands, will affect the growing grounds downstream. So pressure on the breeding resource by Haitian & Dominican Republic poaching, has an effect on the middle & northern islands.

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