October 31, 2014
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States is expected to deliver a ruling on November 3 on a petition by the environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) WildEarth Guardians for queen conch to be declared a "threatened" or "endangered" species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Such a decision would, according to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), cause significant social and economic hardship for thousands of Caribbean fishermen, fish processors/exporters and their families, and undermine the peace and stability of certain coastal communities that rely on the queen conch resource, because it will effectively deprive them of their source of income and livelihoods.
Government representatives from The Bahamas, Jamaica, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states met this week in Nassau with representatives from the United States government to discuss a number of trade issues, including what to do about a potential ban on U.S. imports of queen conch.
Queen conch remains among the most important fishery resources in the Caribbean: Conch meat exports from 12 Caribbean countries are about 14,000 tons and contribute around US$185 million in earnings. Even the shells are exported, albeit to a far lesser extent. CARICOM states together are the main suppliers of queen conch on the international market.
CARICOM's research notes that almost 80% of all queen conch meat in international trade is imported by the U.S., with about 19% imported by France through Guadeloupe and Martinique.
The sixth meeting of the CARICOM-United States Trade and Investment Council (TIC) happened in Nassau this week. During the closed-door meetings, CARICOM nations made representations on the need to prevent a potential ban on U.S. imports of queen conch. The National Marine Fisheries Service of the United States Department of Commerce is presently reviewing the state of queen conch to make a determination whether a listing of the species as threatened or endangered within the meaning of the ESA is warranted.
CARICOM research states that if queen conch is listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, all conch imports into the U.S. market would be prohibited, and all exports from CARICOM states to the United States market would be closed indefinitely. Furthermore, it is anticipated that once the United States market closes, the European Union market would probably follow shortly thereafter.
The queen conch issue was one of a number issues addressed at the TIC, including intellectual property, rum and agricultural sanitation.
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