By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THERE are renewed calls for conch protection measures from environmentalists, including banning the exportation of conch meat and ramping up efforts to tackle the “scourge” of poaching.
Bahamas National Trust (BNT) Director Eric Carey and Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) Executive Director Casuarina McKinney-Lambert both spoke to The Tribune yesterday about conch conservation following a recent statement by Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister Michael Pintard on preserving marine resources.
On Sunday, Mr Pintard announced plans to reduce conch exports and dramatically increase enforcement with an additional 26 fisheries officers.
While Mr Carey applauded Mr Pintard for these and other measures, he also made additional recommendations for further conservation.
“We’re pleased that the minster is supporting the recommendations … put forward by the (BNT) and its partners,” Mr Carey said yesterday. “We would have liked to have seen the exports cut out immediately —it closes the door and you have an immediate conservation action.
“But … we’re prepared to work with the minister. And the other measures that he talked about, inclusive of landing conch in the shell is also very important, because that’s really the only way that you can determine its maturity.
“And we hope the minister will move forward with the other recommendations that we have made, which includes increasing the lip thickness…to about 15 millimetres so that we know that we’re harvesting sexually mature conch. Also that we would make it illegal for conch to be harvested by compressors.”
Mr Carey also “applauded” Mr Pintard’s comments on poaching by both Dominicans and Americans.
“Because that’s the scourge,” he continued. “Bahamian fishermen always lament that the conservation groups are targeting them. We’re not necessarily targeting them, we’re targeting all aspects.
“We want the government to continue and step up efforts to bring poaching to an end or certainly get it very much reduced because it doesn’t really matter if we create protected areas or if we put in place other fisheries management initiatives if we do not control the poaching it’s going to be all for naught, it’s not going to be effective.”
On Monday, Mrs McKinney-Lambert reiterated that BREEF is against exporting conch meat and highlighted the value of conch shells.
“In order to protect the livelihoods of Bahamian fishers, fish vendors and support local restaurants, BREEF does not believe that we should be exporting any conch meat from the Bahamas,” she said.
“We would be better served by adding value to the conch that are harvested by encouraging visitors to come to The Bahamas, stay in a Bahamian hotel, take a Bahamian taxi to a Bahamian restaurant. Especially given that conch populations have declined to the point that they are an endangered species, we need to recognise the value that we derive from keeping our conch in The Bahamas.
“We also need to think more carefully about the value of conch shells and how they can provide alternative sources of income for jewellery, bowls, and art made locally. Shells have traditionally been discarded, but they are valuable as finished products and shouldn’t be wasted.
“Because adult conch populations have dropped in many areas to such low numbers that they are unable to reproduce, it is also essential that we designate and properly enforce areas of the sea that can be replenishment zones where conch are abundant and can reproduce to replenish fishing grounds. The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park and the South Berry Islands Marine Reserve are two such replenishment zones that are so important for the future of our conch fishery.”
These remarks came in the wake of the arrest of five Bahamians and three other men over the weekend after they were found fishing in a protected marine preserve in the Berry Islands with scores of conch on board their vessels.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force apprehended the men on two separate vessels around 10.30am Friday in the area of Whale Cay in the Berry Islands.
They were responding to reports of illegal fishing activity.
Marines discovered a 19-foot skiff with three men onboard, and approximately 50 conch and other fishery products. The second vessel was found in the same area, a 46-foot fishing vessel named “Lady Yvonna,” with five Bahamians and approximately 500 conch onboard.
In his statement on Sunday, Mr Pintard noted while poachers – and to a lesser extent some American sports fishers and leisure cruisers – have wreaked havoc on marine resources, Bahamian fishermen have also contributed to threatening stocks by capturing undersized conch and cracking conch on the sea bed.
“We are also actively engaged in stakeholder discussions about the possibility of requiring fishers to make preparation in future to land conch in the shell,” he said. “This appears to be the only way of measuring lip thickness which is an indicator of the maturity of the conch.”
Mr Pintard also said his ministry has decided to “marginally reduce” quotas for conch export this year, adding exports will be “more dramatically reduced” in 2020 and 2021.
In January, it was reported that researchers believe the local conch supply could be wiped out in 10 to 15 years.
The Chicago-based Shedd Aquarium group found from its research on more than 3,000 conchs at 42 survey sites throughout the Bahamas between 2009 and 2017, 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.