Conch Season closes two months earlier than scheduled

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Conch season has been officially cut short by two months and one week this year. Conch season generally runs from October 1st through June 30th, but this year, the season will close at midnight on Monday, April 23rd. On Monday, April 16th the announcement came in the form of a joint press release from the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development and the Industry Leaders of the Fishing Cooperatives.

According to the release, the decision was made after a meeting was held on Friday April 13th, during which the parties involved discussed the very pressing and important issue of the exhaustion of the conch quota by the Fishing Cooperatives for the current Fishing or ‘Open’ season for the species.

The release further stated that it was decided that, “In order to alleviate the financial hardships being experienced by the Fishing Community while at the same time ensuring the sustainable management of the species – a grace period of ten (10) days would be granted to fishers to conclude their fishing operations.” As such, the Minister advised fisher folk that deliveries of conch to the cooperatives and sales otherwise to the general public would be permitted up until mid-night on Monday, April 23rd.

The closed season for conch for the year 2012 will be Tuesday, April 24th through Sunday, September 30, 2012. Mr. James Azueta, Consistence Management Unit Coordinator for the Belize Fisheries Department spoke to The San Pedro Sun and explained the reasons for the action taken, “We have a set quota every year for the production of conch. This year we had a quota set at 764,970 pounds of conch that would be produced. That number represents 75% of our Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). What we have done so far this year was we brought up that figure an additional 10%. This represents an additional 101,281lbs of conch to be produced. But now we are on the verge of reaching that total. As a result the Minister, the Fisheries Department, the Conch Fishery stakeholders and the Fishing Cooperatives met and we decided that we would have to close the season and on the 23rd of April 2012, at which time we believe we will have reached about 90 – 92% of our MSY of conch.

The MSY is set every two years, following national surveys on the status of conch in the sea. “The allotted quota of the MSY is based on science,” commented to Mr. Azueta. “It is set based on traditional fishing practices, taking that you usually don’t fish your maximum sustainable yield.”

What is owed to the rush in conch fishing this season? Mr. Azueta commented, “Many things have happened. The fishing efforts have increased. The fishing cooperative has more members and fishing efforts are increasing steadily. As you know, this year we didn’t have the cold fronts that would keep the fishermen in for weeks. We have had good weather, so the fishing was steady, and last year we didn’t have a major hurricane to disturb our stocks. As a result, the quota was reached at an earlier time than expected. I’d like to add that by closing the season, we are not taking away anything from the fishers. In fact it’s just a matter of management. The cooperatives get their fishing quota and what they now have to do is to make sure that that quota is fished throughout the fishing season and that there is not a rush to fish.

Azueta further noted that this year, cooperatives have actually been supporting the rush to fish; being open on weekends, and even late nights to receive conch. That practice is highly discouraged and cooperatives are being encouraged to stop such activities. In speaking on the current status of the conch in Belize, Azueta stated, “We are not running out of conch, but by taking this action, we are ensuring that by next season we have a viable conch fishery.

In San Pedro, it was expected that this news would be met with disapproval by the majority. The San Pedro Sun took to the streets to find out what this means to the various food establishments and fishermen. Our investigations reveal that the general sentiment from most restaurants and fisher folks is that while this news places a dent in their current income potential, in the long term, they see its advantages. Many people we spoke with understand that the measure is being taken to manage the harvesting of conch sustainably. One fisherman we spoke with stated that while the immediate outcome of this action is taking away from himself and his family, he understands that it means his grandchildren will be able to have conch in the future.

While Monday, April 23rd marks the closing of conch season, restaurants and individuals will be allowed until May 12th to make use of their stock on hand.

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