We Bahamians think we know a lot about conch.
Most of us learned to dive conchs before we were tall enough to go on carnival rides. We’ve sat in the warm, shallow water and eaten “scorched” conch — raw and doused in lime juice — fresh from the sea. And we’ve watched as our parents and grandmothers taught us how to fritter, steam and stew our country’s native dish.
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the Queen Conch — the most common Bahamian conch species — for the current issue of Abaco Life magazine.
While researching this piece, however, I realized just how much I didn’t know. I learned, for example, that a Queen Conch can live up to 30 years! And that in 1883, an event halfway around the globe thrust the Bahamian Queen Conch onto the world stage.
I also discovered something that should disturb us all — Bahamians and visitors alike.
Studies conducted throughout the Bahamas over the past decade all point to a singular conclusion: the Bahamian Queen Conch population is in rapid decline.
The conchs that remain simply can’t reproduce quickly enough to keep up with the annual harvest. And, with fewer fully grown conchs available, juveniles are being taken before they ever achieve reproductive maturity.
Long story short — and without a hint of exaggeration — the Bahamian Queen conch population is hurtling toward collapse.
But the bottom line is this. If Bahamians and visitors don’t immediately change the way they harvest and consume conch, the Queen Conch fishery in the Bahamas will collapse.
It’s happened before. Conch fisheries in Florida and Bermuda failed under the exact same circumstances. Even more disturbing, despite years of efforts to revive their Queen Conch populations, neither fishery ever recovered.
Here’s what we can do — what we must do — to save our Bahamian Queen:
1. Know and obey the current conch fishing regulations:
- All non-Bahamians (whether on foreign or Bahamian-registered boats) must have a sports fishing permit, and may have a maximum of SIX conchs aboard at any one time. Note that this is six conchs per vessel, not per person.
- Harvesting, possessing or selling conchs without a well-formed shell lip of approximately 5/8” thick is strictly prohibited.
2. NEVER harvest or buy an immature conch. It’s easy to rationalize that “just one or two” won’t matter. But a single juvenile conch, if allowed to mature, can produce up to 500,000 embryos!
3. Patronize restaurants and vendors that are committed to harvesting only mature conchs. If in doubt, check the shell pile outside.
4. Never take conchs from designated marine protected areas or national parks. There are approximately 50 of these sites in the Bahamas, including six in Abaco: Black Sound Cay National Reserve, Tilloo Cay National Reserve, Abaco National Park, Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park, Fowl Cays National Park and Walker’s Cay National Park.
5. Support environmental protection efforts as a whole, since pollution of any kind threatens the marine environment. Studies show, for example, that conch won’t reproduce in waters with higher concentrations of copper and zinc, and that pesticides hinder their ability to mature and reproduce.
6. Share this information with as many Bahamians and visitors as you can, and encourage them to do their part to help save the Bahamian Queen.