No need for conch season yet

 Dear Editor,

In the January 6, 2023 edition of The Nassau Guardian, there appeared under the heading “No need for conch season yet” statements attributed to Eric Carey, the former executive director of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), in which he is quoted as saying, “I don’t think we need a conch season yet.”

To say that I was disappointed with such a statement emanating from Mr. Carey would be a gross understatement. Mr. Carey has provided yeoman’s service to BNT and to The Bahamas in his capacity as the head of BNT, but with the greatest respect, that statement is a grave disservice to the country and damage to his reputation.

The article commenced with a statement to the effect that “if measures put in place by the government to protect Bahamian conch stocks are enforced there would be no need for a season on conch”, which would suggest that Mr. Carey clearly acknowledges that the laws which are in place are not being enforced and further he appears to be of the view that we will at some time in the future need to impose a conch season if those measures are not adopted.

Every time there is talk of imposing new restrictions on the conch industry there seems to be a call for a further study. Surely there is no need to have another study to determine the state of the conch population.

Common sense would suggest that there is no creature, animal, fish or fowl on this planet that does not require some form of protection in order to preserve it from extinction.

As a student in the 1960s, one would hear of the unlimited quantity of fish on the Grand Banks off New Foundland, which were regarded as one of the richest fishing grounds in the world.

Overfishing got out of control and reached the point where in 1992 a moratorium was introduced, creating a total ban on cod fishing in an effort to resuscitate the fish population. Canadian cod was at that point not biologically extinct but commercially extinct. There has been no meaningful recovery in the cod population since 1992.

In history, one would learn about the passenger pigeon which in the early 1800s was estimated to number three billion — that is billion with a B — and by 1900 not one survived in the wild and the last one died in captivity in 1914.

The Bison of North America once roamed the plains in the United States in the millions — anywhere from 30 million to 60 million in the late 18th century — but by 1884 they had been culled to 325. The numbers in the wild have gradually increased to approximately 20,000 after almost 140 years.

Something nearer to home to which we can relate is the conch industry of Florida. The animal was removed in such numbers that a total ban had to be introduced and has been enforced for about 40 years.

The conch population in Florida has not during the ban recovered in any meaningful way and the total ban remains in place. Yet Florida boaters can come to The Bahamas in the thousands and remove as many conch as their little hearts desire, notwithstanding that the law imposes a limit on each vessel. Can we not learn something from the ban in Florida?

Despite the numerous lessons that the world has shown us, when we are faced with proposals to protect the conch population it is still suggested that we need a new survey to determine whether we need to take measures to protect the conch population.

Surely no further survey is required!

Mr. Carey is further quoted as stating, “Generally, I think the minister, as a former commercial fisherman, understands the fight and the need to be on the side of fishermen.”

If that is the view of the minister that would be scary as surely the minister would not be picking sides in such a debate which would be seen as pandering to the wishes of a handful of fishermen while ignoring the view of the majority of people who also make a living from selling conch whole, preparing conch salad or serving conch in so many different forms, and above all the majority of the Bahamian public or visitors to the country who love to eat it.

By ensuring that the laws are observed, the minister would in fact be doing the fishermen and the entire Bahamian population a favor by ensuring that the existing regulations are enforced and the export of conch banned so that by doing this he will be contributing to the preservation of the conch population so that no government would ever need to impose a conch season or other measures to ensure the survival of the conch population for the benefit of us all.

I would like to believe that some of the more controversial statements in the article attributed to Mr. Carey are, in the context of his entire interview, taken out of context in that he emphasizes the need for the enforcement of existing regulations, but to suggest that there is “no need for a conch season yet” sends an entirely wrong message as you are in effect stating that a conch season will be required, in the future, so surely your entire message should be geared towards ensuring that a conch season will NEVER be required.

In the circumstances, the entire tenor of Mr. Carey’s comments should have, in my respectful view, focused on the serious state that the conch industry finds itself in and the necessity of enforcing the existing laws with regard to the size and number of conchs caught, the creation of additional protected areas and the creation of new measures.

Failure to address the issue NOW will be to the detriment of us all and when you have to impose a conch season it is already too late.

The same concerns apply to every fish in the sea and in that regard if we continue to catch fish at the present level with scant regard for the numbers removed or the size of the fish, we would end up like the Grand Banks in a few short years with a moratorium banning fishing and conching of any kind.

Yours faithfully,

Richard Lightbourn

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