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Report on meeting of queen conch biology and ecology experts released

In the final report of the third meeting of the experts in queen conch biology, ecology and fisheries released on May 24, a number of urgent initiatives are set to be put in place to maintain queen conch resources in the Caribbean.

Queen conch is the second most important fishery in the wider Caribbean basin, with significant landings that support the consumption needs of local communities and provide a livelihood for fishers through national and internationally trade.

Apart from its significance to local culture importance, the contribution to food and trade also makes it a key source of livelihoods for small-scale fishers in countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Honduras, The Bahamas, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The fishery involves around 20,000 fishers across the wider Caribbean region. The commonly quoted 7,800 tons of annual conch meat landed are far from being accurate, likewise the economic value of US$74 million, which can significantly increase. However, the challenges connected to illegal fishing, unsustainable harvesting practices and poor understanding of the dynamics of the fisheries to support sound management measures, gave rise to the overall declines of the queen conch stocks throughout the region. Despite these factors, the trend can be reversed if sound effective management measures are put in place, which will also enhance national income from trade and food security.

The meeting, held October 30 – November 1, established the operationalization of the scientific, statistics and technical advisory group, made of prominent queen conch experts, who then met recently. These experts thoroughly analyzed specific priority topics recommended by the Queen Conch Working Group, which included guidance on harmonization of regional conversion factors and priority research at the regional level aimed at providing more accurate and precise landing estimates. This also includes addressing illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and actual landings data in order to ascertain that reasonably estimated catch quotas are not detrimental to the sustainability of the resources.

The meeting also produced practical guidance on more accurate determinations of conch population dynamics for management strategies evaluation and total conch production in accounting for both exports and local conch consumption. The latter is an important pattern in a country such as The Bahamas, where the largest share of the harvest is consumed locally. Some action-oriented recommendations were made on countries’ capacities strengthening for the conch stock recovery and for readily available updated information on two essential tools to the conch industry as a whole: the conversion factors of conch meat and the non-detriment findings applicable across the region.

“The meeting was very productive and we anticipate higher production in conch for local and international trade, which will also allow fishers a better quality of life for themselves and their families in the region,” said Yvette Diei-Ouadi, fishery and aquaculture officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO’s Sub-regional Office for the Caribbean and secretary of the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission.

The expert group will continue working using several means (electronic and face-to-face) to achieve its goals. “A follow up action of high interest is that the group will develop strategies to secure funding, allowing for continued technical advice to countries and to support them in fulfilling their international commitments towards long term fisheries sustainability and equitable development.” said coordinator and biologist Martha Prada.

This meeting was organized with support from the FAO under the European Union-funded project “Support to the implementation of the Regional Plan for the Management and Conservation of Queen conch”; the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council; and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

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