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Bold Move To Address Depleting Conch Stock

Concerned about the TCI’s shrinking Queen Conch stock, government is well in advance with a European Union (EU)-funded study to gauge the diminishing reserve with a view to implement strategic measures to save the mollusk from being wiped out.

From left: Becky Austin - JNCC Consultant; Ellen Last - JNCC Consultant; Lormeka Williams - Director DECR; Wesley Clerveaux - Permenant Secretary; Hon. Josephine Connolly – Minister responsible for Fisheries; Thecla Joseph - Director FMRM; Ronlee James - Deputy Permanent Secretary; Henry Wilson - Deputy Director – FMRM; Kathy Lockhart - Assistant Director – FMRM.

The aim of the study, NewslineTCI has learnt, is to secure livelihoods and maintain a steady source of income for TCI by safeguarding the commodity, regarded as one of the most valuable components of the country’s marine environment.

If it is proven that the stock faces dire depletion, the Queen Conch could be placed on the endangered species list, which could affect export and local consumption.

On Friday, January 6, the Turks and Caicos Islands Government in a news conference, announced an already-commenced 13-month research study by the Fisheries and Marine Resource Management (FMRM).

The Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources (DECR) in partnership with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), aimed at conducting an overall study of the Queen Conch stock.

The undertaking began in May 2022, under the Resilience Sustainability Energy and Biodiversity Programme.

According to Rebecca “Becky” Austin, Senior Policy Advisor at United Kingdom-based JNCC, the research includes data collection from underwater study as well from the consuming public both locals and tourists.

She pointed out that the underwater visual survey would be used to determine the correct Queen Conch Stock. Already, according to Austin, training of Government staff, to assist in the research, is ongoing.

“Demographic information will be collected as part of the survey to ensure we are getting an even spread of data that is representative of all communities across TCI. This information will be used to better understand how demographics may affect the levels of domestic consumption across TCI,” Austin said, asserting that no names will be collected.

“We will not be collecting the names of anyone who participates in the survey,” she reiterated.

Interviews would also be conducted with key stakeholders on the nature and extent of the conch harvesting. Currently, businesses are being surveyed via in person, as well as online.

Austin pointed out that QR codes were being provided so that the public could access the survey site, to participate.

(To participate, view the following links:

Austin told the news conference that on completion of the survey, the next steps would be to get the TCI to operate under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) procedures, pointing out that the British Overseas Territory must adhere to the CITES regulations, adding that the Queen Conch are a CITES-listed species.

Minister responsible for Fisheries, Hon. Josephine Connolly, lauded the study, saying that it would, on completion, would give policy-makers a clearer understanding of how to move forward with plans to ensuring that the conch stock remains sustainable.

In the meantime, Thecla Joseph - Director FMRM, who chaired the news conference, stated that the Queen Conch is listed by TCI Government as the second most economically important commercial fishery for the Turks and Caicos Islands, supporting a large export, trade and significant domestic consumption by locals and visitors.

“However, throughout the region the Queen Conch which provided some level of food security is now in a decline,” she said.

“However, the sustainability of the Queen Conch, threatened or not, without a comprehensive assessment of the stock within the region and specifically the Turks and Caicos Islands, could face competition in the trade,” Joseph further stated.

According to Joseph, the TCI was able to conduct previous stock assessments, but due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, lack of resources and unreported landings of the stock by fishermen, the assessment proved inaccurate. She said also that there was no proper record-keeping of local conch consumption to build a trend.

The project, according to Joseph, would address such critical loss and provide an independent information which could be utilized, to mitigate risk of over harvesting of Queen Conch.


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