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Study: Conch fishery could disappear in 15 years

After measuring more than 3,000 conch at 42 survey sites throughout The Bahamas, scientists have found that this country could lose its conch industry in 10 to 15 years if pressure on the food source is not reduced, a press release on the matter revealed.

The release came from Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. The aquarium, along with a group called Community Conch, conducted the research in The Bahamas, and the findings were published in the scientific journal “Reviews in Fisheries Science and Aquaculture”.

According to the release, surveys of queen conch were conducted between 2009 and 2017 to understand the fishing pressures on the ocean mollusk. It added that “scientists collected data on how many conch were present at a given survey site” and their age based on the thickness of their shell.

The survey revealed three key findings: “The number of adult conch decreased in direct proportion to increases in fishing pressure, and the populations in fishing grounds have become younger with time; densities of legal-to-harvest queen conch are now far below the well-established minimum threshold for reproductive success, except in the most remote areas; and viable fishery for queen conch in The Bahamas might only last another 10 to 15 years, unless significant measures are taken to reduce fishing pressure.”

Senior scientist at Community Conch Dr. Allan Stoner said The Bahamas has to take action to help conch stock to recover.

“The collapse of this fishery for a nation like The Bahamas would be devastating culturally, economically and ecologically,” he said.

“While the queen conch fishery is currently at risk, government actions can help recover the Bahamian stocks. This research study provides scientific evidence of its decline directly through fishing, while also offering a range of solutions that are both feasible and significant.”

Research biologist from the Shedd Aquarium Dr. Andy Kough said in the release that the removal of young conch that have not had a chance to reproduce and the “serial depletion” of conch where there were once thriving stocks, “paints a grim outlook and demands urgent action”.

“As the abundances of queen conch decrease, the life history of these slow-moving snails begins to work against them,” said Kough.

“Conch need to be in close enough proximity to each other to find a mate, reproduce and replenish the population.”

The release said that Florida has had a moratorium on conch harvesting for more than 30 years, but its conch have not yet rebounded to a commercially harvestable level.

“The Bahamas is one of only a few nations where substantial populations of queen conch remain and where a large volume of the conch meats and products are exported,” the release notes. “But, The Bahamas is unlike most Caribbean nations in that it has no closed season for conch fishing.”

The study suggests Bahamian authorities not only “establish a size limit for legal harvest of queen conch based on a shell lip thickness of 15 millimeters”, but also enforce the landing and trade of conch in the shell, which could lead to better enforcement. It also suggests ending the export of queen conch from The Bahamas.

Should those measures not prove successful, the groups suggest putting a moratorium on the harvesting of conch “entirely” for at least five years.

“Unfortunately, any management measures designed to reduce fishing mortality will impact the near-term ability of conch fishers to make a living wage, and it will be important to assist displaced fishers in finding other sources of income,” said Stoner. “But as in all overfishing cases, survival of a long-term queen conch fishing industry will hinge upon management with a long view for sustainability.”

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