The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) brought a series of presentations to Abaco concerning the protection of conch in The Bahamas as reports show declines in the numbers found in the region.
The Bahamas, according to Agnessa Lundy, Marine Science Officer at BNT and coordinator of the Conchservation Campaign, The Bahamas represents one of conch’s last strongholds in the area which includes the Caribbean and Florida whose stocks are depleted.
Ms. Lundy said that as early as 1989 population studies showed a significant cause for concern and by 1992 conch was listed on CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) Appendix II which includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.
However, it wasn’t until 2012 that a National Campaign was formed out of which was born Conchservation.
Conchservation’s goal is to educate fisherman on best fishing practices, encourage consumers to purchase legally harvested conch, influence policy with the best available science, protect the Queen Conch habitat in Marine Protected Areas and launch ‘Conchious’ movement involving restaurants and vendors.
Ms. Lundy highlighted threats to conch in the Bahamas which includes habitat loss, illegal harvesting methods, harvesting of juveniles and subjective fishery regulations and lack of awareness of regulations.
She noted that after research was done on conch populations it was found that conch don’t typically reproduce until they reach approximately four years of age. Further studies showed that no conch with a lip less than 15mm thick reproduced.
She added that the size of the shell and even a flared lip is not enough to determine the age of a conch, but the best sign of maturity is the thickness of the lip.
Conchservation also plans to launch Conchious – a seafood sustainability pledge that aims to help restaurants make better decisions to improve the fishery, reduce the market for juvenile conch, help the Department of Marine resources manage the fishery and improve business links between fishermen, restaurants and fish houses.
She added that there is a petition they would like everyone to sign requesting that the government amend the Fisheries Act to ensure the harvest rule protects conch until they have had a chance to reproduce, and also requests that funds be allocated and disbursed for annual monitoring of conch stocks in the Bahamas.
Fisherman attending the event in Sandy Point discussed the need for more Fisheries Officer, noting that there aren’t any in the Southern area of Abaco.
They also talked about establishing parks were baby conch are regularly found to ensure they are protected.
They were also concerned that not enough is being done by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force regarding poaching in Bahamian waters.
It was also suggested that information from the presentation be shared in schools to help with education campaign.