EDITOR, The Tribune.
I appreciate that there are a large number of issues which need to be addressed by the Government, however, I am disappointed that the Government has not appreciated the need to address the severe depletion of the conch stock in the country as a matter or urgency.
During the last Parliamentary term, I raised the issue in the House on several occasions and suggested that this issue was a serious matter which needed immediate attention and that, for a start, the Government should ban the export of conch. I found no support from the PLP Government as the Minister of Conchs suggested that before he made any decision he needed another survey, even though he had at least three professional reports looking at him, and another Minister suggested that I didn’t know what I was talking about as there was a place in the Exuma Cays known as Conch Cut in which there was an endless supply of conchs. With this type of reaction it was evident that the PLP were content to sit back and watch the gradual disappearance of the conch from the Bahamian menu. I trust that the FNM Government will, however, take a serious approach to the issue.
Under the existing laws, it is legal to export 500,000 pounds of conch per annum. Stop and reflect for a minute that you are probably destroying 1 million conchs in order to provide 500,000 pounds of conch. How many conchs do you think there are in The Bahamas? Certainly not enough to sustain the present level of depletion, not to mention the millions of pounds which are consumed within The Bahamas each and every year and those illegally harvested by the poachers.
One only has to visit the spots in Nassau where live conch are sold and note over the years the reduction in the size of the conch that is being offered for sale. Many of the conch being sold are clearly juvenile conch which should still be enjoying the beautiful waters of The Bahamas. The general test is that the lip of the conch must be curved as an indication that it is mature, however, in many instances, the edge of the conch is broken by the vendor to prevent anyone being able to demonstrate that the conch is immature.
Any lover of conch salad will have witnessed the constant increase in the cost or the reduction in size of the bowl in which the salad is served over the last few years to the point where a bowl of conch salad from the Fish Fry to any of the hotels or restaurants in Nassau will cost anywhere from $12 to $18. Close your eyes and you will be looking at a $30 conch salad.
Anyone over the age of 30 would remember walking in to the sea off virtually any beach in the Bahamas and picking up a few conch without looking. At this point in time, you will have to go many miles further to achieve any success. Even more significant, however, than the cost of the conch is that without a certain density of conch (about 50 adult conch per hectare) there will be no reproduction.
Let us not forget that Key West in the Florida Keys was once referred to as the “Conch Republic” for an obvious reason. The conch stock in the Florida Keys was, in living memory, so depleted that the commercial harvesting of conch was banned in 1975 and the recreational harvesting was added to the ban in 1986. Despite the ban, the conch has not returned and yet here we are a mere hundred miles or so from the Keys and we refuse to learn from their experience and to react to what is happening in front of us.
Let us learn from the fact that the “Conch Republic” has in the blink of an eye become the “No Conch Republic”. If we sit by and do nothing, we will in another blink of an eye, find ourselves in the same state as the “No Conch Republic”.
If we continue to ignore what is happening in front of us then I can only suggest that when the cost of the conch salad hits $30, it will probably be too late to address the problem as we will have arrived at the point of no return.
We hear so much these days about the natural resources of The Bahamas, and here is a natural resource that we can feel and touch. Let us preserve this natural resource before it is lost forever. Initially, there may be a few persons who are adversely affected by a ban on the export of conch, but stop and consider how many thousands of Bahamians will be adversely affected when there is no conch to make conch salad, cracked conch, conch chowder or conch fritters.
The banning of the export of conch will not of itself address the issue, but it is an essential beginning to the discussion. A ban would not require any legislation as it can be achieved at the stroke of the pen.
Stroke that pen!!
November 17, 2017