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2005-12-30 15:48:58

Fisheries Officials Contemplating Closed Season For Conch

In addition to bans on the harvesting of crawfish and the Nassau Grouper, the Department is considering strategies to protect the queen conch.

The Bahamas must take steps to improve the management of its marine resources and safeguard the multimillion-dollar fisheries industry, according to a senior official with the Department of Fisheries.

Noting the economic significance of the industry to the national economy, Director of the Department of Fisheries Michael Braynen said the value of fisheries products landed by commercial fishermen in 2004 exceeded $85 million.

He pointed out that in addition to bans on the harvesting of crawfish and the Nassau Grouper, the Department is considering strategies to protect the queen conch.

He said, however, that due to the length of the breeding period for conch, imposition of a ban on harvesting conch could pose special challenges.

"The breeding time for conch in The Bahamas is quite extensive (because) it begins around April and extends all the way until about September," said Mr. Braynen.

"Certainly in the first instance we would not want to consider recommending anything that was as extensive as (a ban). Recognising that conch is a very important resource for fishermen and for consumers, if there were to be a closed season, we would want to do it in such a way that it not only afforded protection to the species, but also gave fishermen and consumers a reasonable opportunity to continue their activities."

According to the director, the Department is in the process of considering several strategies to enhance management of the country's marine resources.

"We are looking at a number of management measures that can be taken with respect to the queen conch and a closed season for a part of the period when conch are reproducing is just one of those management measures," he said.

"Other management measures would include stricter enforcement or changes in the current legal size limit; and limiting where people can fish, that is establishing areas where there will be no fishing at all."

Noting the many factors that could contribute to decline in the quantity or size of conch harvested, Mr. Braynen discounted the effect of a natural phenomenon which has been partly credited with responsibility for the reduction.

"Nature or physical trauma to the ocean such as hurricanes could alter the situation and cause depletion of conch locally, but really I don't think that what most people have been observing in recent years here in The Bahamas has anything to do with the weather," he said.

"It simply has to do with the amount of fishing pressure that Bahamians and others have been putting on the conch population. Conch is very popular and the population of people continues to grow and the number of people fishing continues to grow, but the conch resource is limited."

Some fisheries suppliers such as Graylon Roberts of Geneva Brass Seafood, however, said they have not experienced any significant reduction in the availability of conch.

"It depends on the season because catching conch is a seasonal thing," Mr. Roberts said.

"In the summer time conchs are plentiful, but when it comes to the crawfish season we turn away from conch and go after the crawfish so there might be a shortage like that, but other than that it's been the same way all along."

Shenica Hanna of Paradise Fisheries agreed.

"The quantity of conchs has been tremendous and we have been receiving a good amount of conch," said Ms. Hanna.

"We really haven't had a problem with the availability of conch and we haven't had a problem with the size either."

By: Darrin Culmer, The Bahama Journal

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