By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A BAN on conch exports could stem the Bahamas' conch population decline, the Commercial Fishers Alliance's (BCFA) president yesterday disputing the reported 80 per cent fall.
Adrian LaRoda told Tribune Business that such a ban was one of several proposals put forward by the BCFA, while citing illegal conch harvesting methods by foreign poachers and increased coastal development as the most significant contributors to population decline.
He was responding after an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report warned that 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.
The 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 totaling 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.
"This is a discussion that has been ongoing for a while, but has been ramped up a bit due to the conservation initiatives geared toward it now. We agree that there has been a marked decline in the conch population, but when we consider why that it is we must consider all factors," said Mr LaRoda.
"Firstly, the population of the Bahamas has increased. Coastal development has increased and that affects conch populations. We have seen immigrants using breathing apparatus to harvest conch. They can decimate a conch nursery in a matter of days.
"What we proposed is that there be greater enforcement on the use of breathing apparatus outside of the lobster season. We also proposed that all conch be landed whole, in the shell, at designated landing sites so their size and maturity can be checked and verified.
"We think that will help, maybe not short-term, but would certainly slow down the negative affects. We had also asked that there be a ban on conch exports."
The IDB report noted that: "In 2015, the quantity of conch meat exported was 401,838 pounds, which was valued at $2.343 million." This places it second behind 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.
Acknowledging the threat from foreign poachers, the IDB paper said illegal harvesting and unsustainable fishing practices was a "widespread problem" in the Caribbean.
"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," the report said.
"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."