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|Could The Queen (Conch) Disappear? Today's Nassau Guardian|
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|Posted by:||Nov 11th 2004, 05:02:27 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||Could the queen disappear?
By Raymond Kongwa,Guardian Staff Reporter
Strombas gigas - not to be confused with the non-edible queen helmet-shell conch also called queen conch - is the queen of local mollusk. Widely viewed by locals and visitors alike as an aphrodisiac and male fertility enhancing agent, her popularity in Bahamian kitchens cannot be easily matched.
Unless she is added to the mix, a salad is not a salad, and, without her in the boil, chowder really isn't chowder. But as droves of her admirers continuously flock to stalls at Arawak Cay's Fish Fry and drop by the Poop Deck to enjoy her in her more than 100 forms, fishing for the Bahamian queen conch could soon be but a memory.
Already extinct in most of the Caribbean and Florida, conch stocks are dwindling in The Bahamas, too. Although not yet considered endangered, the queen conch has been listed as a threatened species by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered species, CITES, banning its export. As a signatory to CITES, The Bahamas manages international trade of conch through the Department of Agriculture.
The reduction of supplies and the subsequent threatened designation have occurred because of two major human actions, both related to fishermen that harvest the economically and socially important organism.
Perhaps, the most obvious is the harvesting of immature conchs. Based on current regulations set by the Department of Fisheries, for a conch to be legally harvested, its shell must have a well-formed flaring lip. A conch reaching this level of maturity would have spawned at least once before harvesting.
When conchs are caught before they reproduce, it becomes increasingly difficult for stocks to be sustained.
A closed season?
However, the Department of Fisheries, in continuing consultations with the fishermen and the public, has suggested that a minimum legal size for conch harvesting based on the development of the conch's sexual organs. The department has also proposed creating a closed conch season during the summer months when conchs spawn.
A final measure being considered to help replenish conch stocks is the establishment of marine fisheries reserves throughout the country. Management techniques such as reserves have proven successful in protecting existing stocks, while promoting the increase of new stocks.
Another major threat to queen conch is the destruction of the seabed, which is caused by the dumping of empty shells in the conch's habitat. This activity repels conch resulting in its spawning in areas further into ocean.
Education over legislation
While addressing the issue earlier this year, Minister of Fisheries and Local Government V. Alfred Gray called on fishermen to discontinue the practice. Noting that educating fisherman is the key to changing attitudes, Mr Gray said the Government would enact legislation to curb seabed destruction, provided education efforts are unsuccessful.
Once laden with queen conchs, the dumping of empty shells has left certain shallow water areas almost depleted of conchs, causing fishermen to go further into the ocean where the conch is much more difficult to harvest.
A fisherman from Andros, who recently brought to the capital 7,000 conchs which he caught in the Berry islands, reports seeing several teams of fishermen discarding shells in shallow sea beds after shelling their catch.
The heart of business
"I tell them to stop that, because the conchs [are] just like humans," says the fisherman who gives his name only as Bob. "Humans would not want to live in a place where they see skeletons and neither do the conchs."
Noting that many fishermen frequently catch juvenile conch, he adds that he had been forced to seek conch in deeper waters in some depleted areas.
But, even with the harmful practices, he says, a closed conch season was not needed. "Conch is different from grouper or crawfish. They can't ever [deplete] the conch. So I don't think they should bother with a season for conch.
"I do this for a living, and if they stop us from getting the conch, what will we have? I think they better leave the conch alone.
Kirkwood "Goldie" Evans, proprietor of one of the more popular conch stalls at the Fish Fry, is also against the idea of a closed conch season.
"Conch is the heart of my business. If I don't have conch, I don't sell any food, any beers or anything else" says Goldie.
He explains that Bahamians are attracted to the Fish Fry mainly for fresh conch salad. Without fresh conch, he says, a salad could be made, but would not be well received.
"Before they (the Department of Fisheries) put a closed season on conch, they should enlarge their surveillance fleet," says Roger Smith, a regular patron at Goldie's. Noting that he often eats conch and would like to see stocks conserved, Mr Smith states that a good place to start with conservation would be with tourist, "who take all kinds of crawfish and conch out of our waters illegally."
Rules and regulations
Officials may face a challenge in selling the idea of a closed season, as the conch continues to be a coveted item for Bahamian consumers. Moreover, it has significant impact for both fisherman and vendor.
Meanwhile, the country attempts to protect its conch stocks from being endangered, a status which, as has been proven in the Florida Keys, is virtually impossible to recover from. The following regulations are being strictly enforced by the Department of Fisheries:
*No harvesting, possession or sale of conch without a well formed flaring lip.
*Non-commercial exports are limited to ten pounds per as personal baggage.
*No commercial export of conch or conch by-product is allowed without a licence.
*All conch products exported are subject to inspection by a Fisheries Inspector.
*Foreign sports fishermen with a valid sport-fishing permit are limited to ten- conch per person on a visiting vessel.
*Conchs cannot be harvested with the aid of SCUBA gear.
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