November 06, 2014
The United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has decided not to place the queen conch on the endangered species list, erasing fears of a U.S. import ban on one of the Caribbean's most valuable marine resources.
Concern over the potential of a conch ban was evident in the region, given the importance of conch exports to the Caribbean. Conch meat exports from 12 Caribbean countries are about 14,000 tons and contribute around $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.
The matter was raised recently at the sixth meeting of the CARICOM-United States Trade and Investment Council (TIC) in Nassau.
In 2013, The Bahamas exported $4.2 million in fresh and frozen conch, practically all of it to the U.S. The value of conch shell exports was $43,700.
Study and findings
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), a division of the NOAA responsible for the stewardship of living
marine resources within the United States' exclusive economic zone, conducted a 12-month study and on Wednesday issued its determination on the petition to list the queen conch (Strombus gigas) as threatened or endangered under the United States' Endangered Species Act (ESA).
"We have completed a comprehensive status report for the queen conch in response to the petition submitted by WildEarth Guardians," NFMS said. "Based on the best scientific and commercial information available...we have determined that the species does not warrant listing at this time."
The NMFS explained the process through which the decision had been made. First NMFS conducted a biological review of the species' taxonomy, distribution, abundance, life history and biology. Available information on threats affecting the species' status was compiled into a status report, which also defined the foreseeable future for the NMFS evaluation of extinction risk.
The group then established a group of biologists and marine mollusk experts - referred to as the Extinction Risk Analysis (ERA) group - to conduct a threats assessment for the queen conch, using the information in the status report. The ERA group was comprised of six Endangered Species Act policy experts from NMFS' Office of Protected Resources and its southeast and southwest regional office's protected resources divisions; three biologists with fisheries management expertise from NMFS' southeast region's sustainable fisheries division, and two marine mollusk biologists from NMFS' northwest and southeast fisheries science centers. The ERA group had expertise in marine mollusk biology, ecology, population dynamics, ESA policy and fisheries management. The group members were asked to independently evaluate the severity, scope, and certainty for each threat currently and in the foreseeable future, which they qualified as 15 years from now.
After the year-long investigation, the ERA spoke.
"We conclude that the queen conch is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, nor is it not likely to become so within the foreseeable future," the NMFS reported.
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