Bahamian Queen Conch Fishery Hurtles Toward Collapse

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.

The reasons for this situation are varied and complex, and you can read more about them in a recent NOAA National Marine Fisheries Services report here.

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.

If you’d like to read my full article, Saving the Bahamian Queen, the Winter 2017 issue of Abaco Life magazine is on sale now throughout Abaco. You can also subscribe here.

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What we must do to save the Bahamian Queen Conch population.

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13 thoughts on “Bahamian Queen Conch Fishery Hurtles Toward Collapse

    • Hi, Linda. Thanks for your note. In the right hand column on my homepage is a button that says “Follow Little House by the Ferry.” If you click that button and put in your email address, you’ll receive all the blog posts. Thanks again!

      Amanda

  1. If you want to save the queen conch get all the Dominicans out of the Bahamian commercial fishing industry they are here with fake spousal permits brought in by crooked politicians that own interest in Bahamian fishing boats they swim the bottom killing out our conch beds leaving the dead shells and they our destroying our fisheries the same way they destroyed there own there wasn’t a problem before they came and it will stop if we get them out . Why on earth would we import fishermen from a country that does nothing but travel throughout the Caribbean poaching the marine life to death . The answer is money and they will ride it till the conch industry is dead in the Bahamas . We have the best fishermen in the world in the Bahamas we don’t need or want foreigners in the Bahamian commercial fishing industry . For God sake let’s keep something in our country as a Bahamian Heritage.

    • Hi, Chuck. Thanks for your comment. We ALL have a role to play in conserving the conch population. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to blame the current situation on any one group. That being said, I do believe our government could be doing a whole lot more to support conservation efforts.

    • The Bahamian government has allowed the Chinese to come in and drag/ dredge harvest for sea cucmbers. This destroys the conch beds and is extremely damaging as well. Without regulations and a closed season with enforcement the bahamas will have no conch anywhere in just a year or two is my feeling. Everywhere I go I seen bahamians selling juvenile harvested conchs. Bahamas needs to also stop exportation of conch for a few years for sure.

      • Thanks for your comment, Ryan. I agree that the Bahamian government can and should be doing more to protect the conch population and fishery. But I do believe that EVERY Bahamian (and visitor) has to do their part as well. As you point out, Bahamians everywhere are selling juvenile conchs. The government and Bahamas National Trust has promoted the idea of not taking juvenile conchs for several years now — but clearly the message isn’t sinking in. Maybe more monitoring is needed? Stiffer fines and penalties? And maybe there needs to be oversight from an outside/third party to ensure that the government’s actions in all areas are supportive of, and congruent with, its efforts to protect the conch population…? I don’t know… I just know that what’s happening now isn’t working. 😦

  2. I just wanted to make a correction. In Florida the queen conch has been on a strict no take list since 2002. Possession or harvest is strictly prohibited. You state that the stock has not recovered. This is not true. Because of this protection the local stock has recovered and there is an abundance of fully mature conchs on the grass flats in the Florida Keys. I only wanted to point this out to illustrate how a fishery management program does work. Please take notice Bahamas. You need to manage this fishery before it’s too late.

    • Hi, P. Pike. Thanks for your note. And I absolutely agree with you — the Bahamian conch fishery needs to be managed NOW. Just to be clear, I stated that neither FISHERY (Bermuda or Florida) has recovered. I’m glad to hear the conch population in the Keys is recovering. That certainly gives cause for hope that with immediate action, the Bahamian population can be saved! But to my knowledge, and as I point out in the blog post above, despite the prohibitions and protections implemented in Florida (and Bermuda) neither commercial fishery has been able to resume. Do you know if there are any plans, given the abundance of mature conchs, to re-open Florida’s conch fishery? That would certainly be good news!

  3. Reduce the season. Reduce the number of licenses, Reduce the allowable catch. Increase the size requirements. Violators get huge fines up to and including boat and equipment seized.

    • Sean, in 1883 there was a World’s Fair in London, and the Bahamian exhibit featured jewelry and other items made from conch shells and pearls. That event raised the profile of these items on the world stage, and dramatically increased demand.

      A.

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