As government mulls over the concept of implementing a conch season, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said the ministry will continue to push measures to conserve the conch stock, including potentially restricting the harvesting of conch by visitors to The Bahamas.
“We believe that conch should not be harvested by visitors in The Bahamas and so that is one of the measures we intend to include, and also to reduce the amount in pounds that they are able to capture on sports vessels as well as pleasure craft,” Pintard said during a press conference yesterday.
Research concluding that The Bahamas could lose its population of queen conch within the next two decades if conservation measures aren’t taken, has led environmentalists to call for a ban on conch exports and a closed season for conch harvesting.
Pintard said a conch season has not been on the agenda of his ministry, but the government is open to hearing the views of the public before taking a policy position.
“We are aware that there’s a petition circulating by members of civil society and a conch season has been one of the options raised by persons who are concerned about the conch stock. But we have been very clear in the ministry in terms of the measures that we are pushing,” he said.
“A survey is being conducted nationally to get the views of all stakeholders. We will make decisions at the end, having canvassed all stakeholders.”
In addition to restricting the harvesting of conch by visitors on leisure and sport fishing craft, Pintard said the ministry is also pushing for conch to be landed in their shells.
“…The principle positions we have been pushing is that we have to give serious consideration to the possibility that we will ask them to land conch in the shell, since lip thickness is the best way of determining the maturity of the conch. So we hear a lot about persons having small conchs and so the assumption is that for every small conch you see, someone is engaged in something illegal, when there are some species of conch that are fully matured but may be somewhat small. Landing in the shell does have some logistical issues that we are seeking to work through, but it is one of the things that we are pushing,” he said.
“The second thing is we are reducing the quota of exports and the goal is to eliminate the export of conch from our standpoint, unless someone has the science to dissuade government from that position. There are some who feel that on one hand we are not moving fast enough and we should do it suddenly.
“What we’ve been saying to them is that… they would not tolerate and they would be concerned if the government makes a summary decision without giving them an opportunity to dispose of the stock they already have and stick to commitments already made without any warning or preparation… Coming next season there will be a substantial reduction in the quota that every company is assigned in The Bahamas. So they can pivot to look at other species, to look at the local market where the bulk of conch is already sold.”
Pintard also revealed that the ministry got the approval to hire 37 new fisheries officers to step up enforcement in the government’s efforts to protect the conch stock in marine protected areas.