By NATARIO MCKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
BAHAMIAN fishermen yesterday said curbing illegal and unregulated conch harvesting methods is key to supply sustainability, saying: “If we don’t get a handle on this, we’re finished.”
Keith Carroll, vice-president of the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA), told Tribune Business: “Fishermen have been saying for the past 20 years that they need to deal with these Dominicans operating on Bahamian fishing boats. The fishing practices they use are unsustainable.
“These guys go out to sea and they are coming up with 60,000 pounds of conch. They dive all year-round, even when it’s illegal to use a compressor. They’re killing our country. We allow them to come in and they get married for convenience.”
Mr Carroll added: “If we don’t get a handle on this, we’re finished. Once that is handled, our problem will be solved. We can have conch the way we used to years ago. A Bahamian crew of ten men goes out for two weeks and they come back with 5,000 pounds of conch.
“These boats are going out with a crew of 20 men and are coming back with 60,000 pounds of conch. The way we fish, we don’t fish with that mindset. We fish. and when we think we have enough to make some money we come back home.”
Concerns over the future of The Bahamas’ conch supply have been raised once again in the wake of the Chicago-based Shedd Aquarium group’s study. Its research on more than 3,000 conchs at 42 survey sites throughout The Bahamas between 2009 and 2017 showed that not only are the numbers of adult conch decreasing, but the densities of legal-to-harvest queen conch are now far below the established minimum threshold for reproductive success, except in the most remote areas.
The research also showed that viable fisheries for queen conch in The Bahamas might only last another ten to 15 years, unless significant measures are taken to cut fishing pressure.
Michael Pintard, minister of agriculture and marine resources, has vowed to “aggressively engage” with stakeholders regarding conch conservation, including starting dialogue on a possible conch season in the wake of the Shedd report.
Mr Pintard said measures his ministry will be “strongly recommending” will include implementing a minimum lip thickness for conch to be harvested, considering ending conch exports, increasing equipment and personnel available to “ensure compliance” with fisheries laws, and encouraging more participation in the fight against “illegal, unreported and unregulated” fishing practices. He added that implementing a closed season will also be put to stakeholders.
Speaking to the crawfish season, Mr Carroll said: “This is the first time in 22 years that my boats have been out four trips and not a single trap was bothered with. It’s the first time in 22 years. I must give the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and the Government credit for handling the poachers and the fines that were levied.”