By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
GRAND Bahama fishermen and vendors yesterday rejected arguments for a closed conch season, telling The Tribune such a move would seriously impact their livelihood.
As debate continues about declining numbers, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard revealed this week a national survey is being conducted among stakeholders for a closed conch season to protect stocks. Mr Pintard said a decision would be made after the government canvasses all stakeholders.
In Grand Bahama, conch vendors and divers sell conch every day at the fish and vegetable market, near the International Bazaar.
Many of them yesterday were opposed to the idea of a closed conch season. “I do not support a closed conch season because diving and selling conch is our livelihood, said Nado Forbes.
“We come out here everyday and sell our conchs. If they have a closed season, we can’t go out to get the conch and we won’t be able to support our families.”
Since 2015, the Bahamas National Trust launched a national campaign geared towards sustaining the country’s severely declining Queen Conch populations, called the “Conchservation” campaign.
According to BNT, studies conducted on conch fishing grounds indicated conch populations are threatened by overfishing. BNT Executive Director Eric Carey stated the declining conch numbers were the result of the harvesting of conch species not yet given the chance to reproduce.
In January 2019, Chicago-based Shedd Aquarium group warned the country’s conch supply could be wiped out in ten to 15 years. The group conducted research at 42 survey sites throughout the Bahamas between 2009 and 2017.
Despite this research, some fishermen are sceptical about the findings.
Mr Forbes said even though they now have to go out further from shore to dive conch, there is no conch shortage.
“I do not believe there is a conch shortage,” he said.
“Yeah, we have to go a little further for conch now because people leave the shell in the water near the shore so the conch run away from the shell, and that’s why they go further. When people knock out the conch and throw the shell in the water, the living conch go somewhere safer which is further out,” he explained.
Mr Forbes has been diving conch since age 13, and said it all depends where a diver goes.
“Sometimes conchs are scattery (less) in certain areas, and then sometimes you see it full. So you can’t say there is a shortage out there because spots are hidden and you get bigger conchs. I would not support a closed conch season. I been doing this for a very long time,” he said.
Bernadette, a seafood vendor, was at the fish market purchasing conchs for her business. She operates Bernie’s Tiki Hut at Silver Cove, near the Island Seas Resort.
She said: “I feel that there is no conch shortage in the Bahamas. I am more than 50 years old, and from I know myself, we always had conch. For how conch spawn, we would never have a shortage of conch. I don’t think that would happen. This is the Bahamas, and God give us these beautiful waters, and he put what’s in there for us, and it is always going to be enough conch in there for us to have.”
She said that she would not support a closed conch season.
Perry, a diver, said conch is plentiful in the sea.
“I tell you one thing, plenty conch out there, he said. They don’t dive. I am a diver and I know what I see. What else is there to do around here if there is a closed season for conch?” he asked.
“I was doing this for seven to ten years now. It will affect just about everyone in the fishing industry. I don’t think we short of conch. We short of some boats - that’s what we need more of, boats to get some conch,” he said.
When asked if he believes BNT and the research conducted about a conch shortage, Perry said: “You can dive in any one of them canals over the bridge and get conch, so judge the open sea. I do this everyday.”
He said that the small conchs are often closer to shore so that’s why they have to go further for adult conchs.
“We do not fool with the small ones which are more inland; we have a problem with that in West End now. That’s what’s making it look like ain’t no conch out there because they fooling with the little baby ones inside the harbour,” he claimed.
“Plenty conch out there, man; I ain’t move from this ground yet, and I was working this ground for almost two months. And when I go back in the boat I going right back there (to the same spot) again. I ain’t gone away from that area yet, so what that tell you? They ain’t know what they talking about.”
A fisherman named Frederick also opposes a closed season for conch fishing.
He noted that conchs produce about three million eggs, just like the lobster. He said some are eaten by fish, turtles, and other sea creatures, but many survive.
“I understand what they are trying to do, but you got to look at how big these conchs are and depending on where it is - in Grand Bahama, Long Island, and Bimini. Conchs do not need a season,” he insisted.
Frederick said implementing a closed season would hurt many conch fishermen.
“What are they are going to do if they can’t find jobs out there during the closed season. You taking fishermen off the water to come on land when they got families to feed.”
Martin, a conch vendor, does not support it either. “I don’t support that in no way. Conch is a big commodity - you got restaurants that need fresh conch everyday. People ain’t going to wait three months to eat fresh conch, so closing it don’t make no sense,” he said.
However, he agreed measures must be taken to stop the harvesting of juvenile conchs.
“They need to get on that and stop that from happening, but closing the season ain’t a good thing,” he said.
Yves said that fresh conch salad is a daily Bahamian staple. “Bahamians love conch salad, and you need fresh conch for that. I can’t see people not eating fresh conch salad for six months,” he said.