U.S. may ban conch imports

The United States’ Secretary of Commerce has been asked to place the queen conch (Strombus gigas) on the list of threatened or endangered, under the Endangered Species Act, which would then prompt the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (C.I.T.E.S.) to move the queen conch from Appendix II to Appendix I, which would ban all trade in conch.

A C.I.TE.S. ban would affect not only the U.S., which is Belize’s major market for conch exports, but all other countries which are signatories to CITES.

This would effectively kill Belize’s conch fishing industry, Chief Executive Officer Dr. Wendell Parham of the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development warned representatives of the five fishing cooperatives at a consultation held the Coastal Zone Management Authority Institute on Friday, October 12.

WildEarth Guardians, a U.S. conservation non-governmental organization made the petition to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to also request that the National Marine Fisheries Service designate critical habitat for the species in U.S. waters, but Belize and other countries which export conch to the U.S. have a window of opportunity, until October 26, 2012, to submit information and comments to the Secretary of Commerce.

Belize and other conch exporting countries are naturally lobbying to oppose the listing, because of the profound economic impact it would have on their fisheries industry.

Belize is arguing that its fisheries is sustainable, and is working with CFRM and OPESCA to put forward our position to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. This year’s survey had shown that there are much more mature conch to harvest.

A ban would be a blow to Belize’s fishing industry as conch exports remain Belize’s second most important commercial species of fishery, after lobster. Belize’s conch fisheries produced 856,425 pounds of conch last year, up from 705,775 in 2019, and earned Belize US$4.09 million in foreign exchange earnings in 2011.

All is not lost, as the ministry had called the consultation to advise the fishermen of the results of this year’s National Conch Survey and to advise them that the total quota for this year has been increased to 1,058,246 pounds. This is up from 690,322 allocated for the 2009-2010 season, when fishermen produced 725,221 lbs of conch and the 2010-2011 quota of 764,969 lbs, when the fishermen produced 856,425 lbs of conch.

The Northern Fishermen’s Cooperative gets the lion’s share of this year’s quota: 67% or 708,025 lbs. National Fishermen’s Cooperative gets 32% or 337,639 lbs. The Placencia Cooperative get 1% or 10,582lbs, while Rio Grande Coop in Punta Gorda gets a 500 lb quota, as does the Caribena Coop of San Pedro: 500 lbs.

As acting Fisheries Administrator James Azueta explained to the media after the meeting, the Fisheries Department has conducted a two-month survey of the conch population every year since 2006, as mandated for species listed on CITES Appendix II. CITES still allows trade for those species on Appendix II, but it all has to be properly documented. The annual surveys began after CITES listed Belize as requiring additional data.

The survey estimates the Total Allowable Catch (T.A.C.) using three different models: the empirical method which estimated T.A.C. at 1,058,880 lbs; the Schaeffer model which estimated T.A.C. at 1,138,863 lbs; and the Fox model which estimated T.A.C. at 976,996 lbs. The Fisheries Department averaged the three models which then estimated the total allowable catch at 1,058,246 lbs.

Normally, quotas are set at Maximum Sustainable Yield, which is calculated a 75% of the TAC.

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