NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said yesterday that his ministry will strongly recommend the introduction of a minimum conch lip thickness for legal harvesting in an effort to reduce the increasing pressure on the fisheries product.
The thickness of the shell indicates the age of the conch.
Pintard also said serious consideration must be given to the possibility of ending the export of conch.
His recommendations to ease the fishing pressures on conch comes amid a study, which evidence the steady decline of the queen conch through fishing and suggested the industry could be depleted within 10 to 15 years if Bahamian authorities do not introduce measures to help recover the fisheries product.
“Already our ministry has concluded and will be strongly recommending to stakeholders that we implement a minimum conch lip thickness for conch to be harvested,” Pintard said in a statement.
“We also believe that we must seriously look at the possibility of ending the export of conch.
“We must increase the equipment and personnel available to ensure compliance with the Fisheries laws.
“Also, we must encourage greater participation of stakeholders in the process that would assist in combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing practice, especially with regard to the harvesting of our marine resources inclusive of the queen conch.
“It is also imperative that we conclude the amendments to the draft Fisheries Act, which are now being reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office.
“We are confident that we will arrive at the best decision after quick, but widespread consultations.”
Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, along with the group, Community Conch, measured more than 3,000 conch at 42 survey sites throughout The Bahamas.
The survey study, published in the scientific journal, ‘Reviews in Fisheries and Science and Aquaculture’, was conducted over an eight-year period (2009-2017) to determine the fishing pressures on the conch.
It determined that the density of mature conch was far below the established minimum threshold for reproductive success, except in remote areas.
The scientists suggested The Bahamas establish a size limit for legal harvesting of queen conch based on a 15 millimeters shell lip thickness, and enforce the landing and trade of conch in the shell to improve enforcement.
They also suggested ending the export of queen conch from The Bahamas.
If those measures fail to improve the sustainability, the study suggested placing a complete moratorium on harvesting conch for at least five years.
Yesterday, Pintard said it should not come as a surprise that there is a decline in various marine products in the “traditional areas” where conch has been harvested over the years, as anecdotal evidence from fishermen reflect that they have had to travel further away from land, in deep waters, to catch conch.
He questioned the extent to which conch has been depleted, over what period of time, and the contributing factors, including harvesting methods such as the use of compressors, illegal poaching and harvesting undersized conch.
He said there is a growing concern about the fishing pressure on marine products and the environment as a result of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in Bahamian waters.
According to Pintard, his ministry has been reviewing and discussing earlier studies on the status of the conch and grouper populations and will be reviewing, as a matter of urgency, the most recent studies conducted.
“I have been meeting consistently with the fishing communities, including those in Abaco, Eleuthera, Spanish Wells, Grand Bahama and have been speaking to fishers from other islands via chat groups, telephone and the media,” Pintard said.
“My ministry has committed to aggressively engage in widespread consultation with the various stakeholders relative to ‘conchservation’ and the protection of the Bahamian grouper.
“In the town meetings that my team organized we forecasted that these very sensitive discussions were coming shortly. The time is now.
“The government’s position is that any policy decision that dramatically affects how and when we harvest conch, whether or not we export it and what size is appropriate to harvest it must all be based on scientific research followed by respectful discussions with fishers, entrepreneurs, scientists, environmentalists, vendors and others to arrive at what is in our collective best interest.”