By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday urged conch exporters to switch to other products given the government’s desire to ultimately eliminate sales to other countries.
Michael Pintard, minister of agriculture and marine resources, confirmed that the government is moving to progressively reduce conch export quotas as a means to achieve this goal and help preserve the species
Warning that conch exporters should anticipate a substantial reduction in their assigned quota, he said: “They now need to pivot and look for other species to export, and look at the local market where the bulk of conch is already sold.”
Mr Pintard added that only 20 percent, or one-fifth, of conch harvested in The Bahamas is exported to overseas markets. Official government data showed some 639,840 pounds of conch meat, worth $4.484m, was exported in 2018. This generated $63,984 in royalties for the government.
A further 137,835 pounds of conch shells, worth $29,810, were exported last year to produce $4.135 in royalty income for the government. The total value of conch-related exports, standing at $5.013m, represented just 6.7 percent of The Bahamas total 2018 fisheries exports of $75.229m.
“We are reducing the quota of exports, and the goal is to eliminate the quota of exports unless someone has the science to dissuade the government from that position. There are some, on one hand, who feel we are not moving fast enough and that we should do it suddenly,” said Mr Pintard of conch.
He added that the government will not make an abrupt decision before giving exporters the opportunity to dispose of their stock and handle commitments already made without warning or preparation.
Keith Carroll, the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA) vice-president, said yesterday he backed a conch export ban.
“I support this, and I think we need it,” he argued. “Right now we are still exporting the same amount we exported 25-30 years ago. Government hasn’t considered the amount of new restaurants that have opened, all the vendors at Arawak and Potter’s Cay and hotels.
“For many of them their main dish, especially appettizer, is conch chowder and conch fritters. We have been trying to keep up with the demand. Cutting back on export is a good thing. We would still be able to satisfy our restaurants and Bahamians would still have conch to eat.”
Eric Carey, the Bahamas National Trust’s executive director, earlier this year called on government to put a ban on exports from The Bahamas following a recent study that found this nation could lose its conch industry in ten to 15 years if pressure on this food source is not reduced.
Mr Pintard yesterday said that while a conch season was not effectively “on the table”, there is demand from members of civil society for a closed season.
“A conch season is an issue that has been raised by members of civil society, and a conch season has been one of the options raised by persons concerned about the conch stock. A survey being conducted nationally to get the views of all stakeholders. We will make a decision having canvassed all stakeholders,” said Mr Pintard.