The Nassau Guardian
By Jeffrey Todd
Key stakeholders in the national “Conchservation” campaign are advocating a possible ban on conch exports until the domestic reserves reach acceptable levels.
Following the launch of Conchservation last weekend, the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA) are in open dialogue on the way forward. Both parties agree that the conch population has reached a “critical stage”, and rather than implementing an open season, meaningful changes are needed to save the iconic mollusc.
“We export around 500,000 pounds of conch each year,” said Neil McKinney, the president of BNT. “According to the Department of Marine Resources, there are around three conch to a pound. So that’s 1.5 million being exported every year. It is more than the stocks can bear.”
Allaying the concerns of the fishing community, the BNT president said banning conch fishing outright or imposing a specific season could possibly be avoided. Fishermen are reluctant to allow a season because many Bahamians make ends meet on conch when crawfish season is closed.
Adrian La Roda, BCFA spokesperson, said banning conch exports would be a welcomed policy.
He said a compromise for BCFA is not to reduce exports but eliminate them entirely. While conch exporters might not relish the idea, he pointed out that 1.5 million conchs does not represent a large industry.
“It will have a minimum effect on exports and a big impact on the population. We think the domestic population will be better served by harvesting for local consumption only,” he explained. “We are not going to support a closed season or any sort of ban We need other means to reach a solution.”
La Roda also argued that a ban on exports would make the Bahamian conch more “special” and a greater draw for tourists.
Whether exports are banned or not, McKinney told Guardian Business that last weekend’s event is only a first step.
He said education must now kick in whereby Bahamians stop harvesting conchs that have yet to mature and spawn. He also called for the outlaw of fishing methods whereby underwater breathing apparatuses, typically used for lobster, allow fishermen to dive below 60 feet and take immature conches.
Another issue both sides seem to agree on are reserves so the existing conch population can breed undisturbed.
“How big would those reserves be? And how many would it take to sustain and eventually grow the stock?” he asked. “How will it be managed or enforced? We’ve reached a crucial stage where these questions and more needed to be answered.”