The Royal Bahamas Defense Force and the Department of Marine Resources are stepping up their efforts to terminate the fishing of undersized conch and lobster after two sizable busts yesterday.
Two fishermen were arrested after Defense Force officers discovered 312 juvenile conch on- board a boat two miles off the shore of West End yesterday afternoon.
Shortly after, another group was discovered with a still unknown amount of conch and spawning lobster.
The busts were made after a meeting yesterday where Defense Force officers are determined to step up efforts to capture fishermen with undersized conch, Clement Campbell, assistant superintendent of fisheries at the Department Marine Resources said.
He said the harvesting of undersized marine life would not be tolerated.
“The message that I am trying to send here is that this thing has been going on for a long time – the harvesting of small conch and you can see how small these conch are. They do it every day and they do it in East Grand Bahama too and I am fed up and tired of it,” Campbell said.
Campbell said he had suggested to the previous administration that all conch be brought to shore in their shells to cut down on the practice.
“They always have small conch by the thousands, but they crack them out of the shell, leave the shell out on the sand bank, bring the conch on to the land, skin them and then sell them for $2.25 a pound,” Campbell said. “If they have to bring the conch in the shell it wouldn’t be small conch.”
Campbell said the men were caught yesterday before they had the opportunity to knock the conch out of their shells.
He promised efforts would be stepped up to cut down on the illegal practice that is depleting the country’s supply of the delicacy.
“In the year 2020 there will be zero conch and I am not going to tolerate this foolishness with this conch that they are doing because they are doing it for more and more,” he said.
Campbell explained that a conch is determined to be undersized by the size of the flare of the lip on the shell.
“You have some conch that are real small that are called butt head, real thick – they are like 200 years old, but they are real small. These conch they have here, it takes like 10 or 12 of them to make one pound and they will sit on that dock in West End and knock those little conch all day,” Campbell said.
He said fishermen are well aware of the terms of the Fisheries Act because he speaks with them constantly.
“I talk to them every day and any of them can tell you that I always tell them to stop doing it. Let the conch grow,” Campbell said.
Campbell said he has heard a gamut of excuses with some claiming that they only have a small boat and cannot go out too far, but he said they should choose another profession or get a larger boat if they want to get access to the larger conch.
Campbell said the food stores also contribute to fishermen harvesting undersized conch because they buy them and sell them to the public.
“I want to remind the consumers, if they go in the food store and they see these plastic things with conch in it, I don’t know what the price is, the conch are small. Don’t buy it. Do not purchase it so the (food store) will then have to buy big conch instead of having six little conch in the bag for whatever the price is. If you don’t buy it, then they will not purchase the small conch,” Campbell said.
Commenting on the fishermen with the spawning lobster that he learned about while on the way to meet with the media, Campbell said it is even worse because one lobster has in the range of two million eggs.
“That’s not good at all, so I’ll be leaving here and going back to West End to deal with that,” he said.
The fishermen will be charged in court this week.
By Cleopatra Murphy
Freeport News Reporter