At the Friends of the Environment’s Abaco Science Alliance Conference, Candice Brittain, researcher at the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI), spoke on a surprising find regarding juvenile conch in the Schooner Cays area off South Eleuthera; still concerns about population numbers exist.
Estimated that The Bahamas exports $5-7 million worth of conch each year, conch are ecologically important, with juveniles found in mangroves and seagrass beds and they are all interconnected and are necessary to maintain a healthy eco-system.
Current regulations require a fully flared lip for harvest in the Bahamas, however, recent scientific research shows that they become sexually mature with a lip thickness of 15 millimeters (approximately .2 inches), so the regulation doesn’t really represent the science.
They normally have mating pairs and usually require an aggregation of about 47 to 50 conch per hectare to have successful reproduction
She spoke of the life cycle of the conch illustrating the importance of the ecosystems to support the sustainability of the conch population.
In Florida and Haiti conch is commercially extinct due to over-harvesting – Florida has banned conch fishing and had a marine protected area for about thirty years, yet the population has not come back because it was devastated.
It is also important to protect where the larvae are coming from as well as where they are going to ensure a healthy population.
In 2003 a survey showed that about 32 percent of conchs harvested were juvenile. In a 2014 survey that number increased to 49.2 percent illustrating that the regulations are not being enforced and fishermen are not complying.
In 2014 they also sought to find mating pairs and dove for over two and a half months in search of them finding only one mating pair. Aggregations in this survey showed a large decline from the numbers surveyed in 1993.
The research was conducted in the Schooner Cays area off South Eleuthera – an area dubbed the largest conch nursery in The Bahamas in 1993 finding 950 juvenile conch per hectare. “We didn’t find a lot of conch initially.”
“But we expanded the area and found a line of conch that kept going and going,” she said. “It was really exciting.”
She said “We want to look at what we can do to ensure we have conch for the future to eat and be commercially viable and prevent area extinctions like Florida and Haiti.”
“What should we do to manage conch populations? Do we even want to?” she asked. It was suggested that the Bahamas could adjust the regulations to fit the science, but as was noted compliance is a problem.
“It will require education and outreach; working with fishermen to see how it can change. There is also the idea of a closed season during peak mating time.”