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Expect even more change to conch fishery policy

The science spoke, and the government has begun its response.

In a release in January, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, along with a group called Community Conch, discussed the results of research in The Bahamas on conch populations. The findings were published in the scientific journal “Reviews in Fisheries Science and Aquaculture”.

After measuring more than 3,000 conchs at 42 survey sites, scientists found The Bahamas could lose its conch industry in 10 to 15 years if pressure on the food source is not reduced.

Surveys of the queen conch were conducted between 2009 and 2017.

The government previously said it was reviewing the data and recommendations from marine conservation groups. Yesterday, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said in a statement that the government will marginally decrease conch export quotas this year, with more dramatic cuts coming in 2020 and 2021.

Pintard did not specify the quantity of the immediate reduction, or those to come, but said he’s been advised that conch exports constitute one-fifth of all conch harvested.

“We are also actively engaged in stakeholder discussions about the possibility of requiring fishers to make preparation in future to land conch in the shell. This appears to be the only way of measuring lip thickness, which is an indicator of the maturity of the conch,” he said.

“Furthermore, we are dramatically increasing our enforcement ability by adding an additional 26 fisheries officers to our team in the short-term.

“Among the things they will look out for will be the presence of dive compressors, which are not permitted when diving conch.”

The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) has called for a ban on conch exports.

The announced changes are the beginning of significant necessary regulation to protect the conch fishery. There must be action now before it is too late. Overfishing destroyed the conch fishery in Florida. It also did so to the cod fishery in the North Atlantic.

When fisheries collapse, they sometimes do not come back. Right-thinking Bahamians should support these changes.

“There is no substitute for education, and therefore we are continuing dialogue with all stakeholders so that we are all informed by careful research. We want our fishers and all those who derive a living from our marine resources to have a very long, successful livelihood,” said Pintard.

Conch is big business in The Bahamas. If we want that business to continue, if we want those jobs, if we want to be able to eat one of our favorite foods, there must be sustainable use of the fishery. The science says we are far from that right now.

The government should not take long to formulate its full response. The problem is already acute. Action is needed now. Action after the fishery’s collapse would be futile.

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