Strombus Gigas Alliance attends 67th GCFI conference in Barbados
Monday, November 24th, 2014
The 67th Golf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) conference took place in Barbados from 3rd to the 7th of November. Amongst the many participants was Belize’s Strombus Gigas Alliance (SGA) who made a 16-minute presentation to the packed audience. Their presentation was made in an effort to show the top world marine life caretakers the full economic value of the entire conch, instead of just the flesh currently consumed.
Conch experts Glenn Schwendinger and Dr. Dianne Lawrence who live on Ambergris Caye, made the presentation on a two-year working document. The duo submitted the presentation to caretakers of marine life, experts and the research academia, pointing out that the fishermen of the region have not been able to capitalize on the full economic value of the Queen Conch (scientifically known as Strombus gigas). They pointed out that as it stands, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna (CITES), all parts of the conch, including the flesh are allowed to be traded from country to country with the right permits. While the conch flesh is moved from country to country with little obstacles, it is a bit more challenging for the remaining parts of the conch, which includes the internal organs, shell and operculum (claw). This, claims the Belize SGA, does not encourage the full use of the conch, thus dumping the remaining parts of the conch into the garbage that could otherwise earn the fishing industry added revenue worth millions of dollars.
Speaking about the success of the presentation, Schwedinger indicated that it was well accepted. “It was a huge success as the presentation was unanimously accepted and the feedback was excellent,” said Schwedinger. “The economic impact that the full use of the conch can have is huge and those present acknowledge that fact.”
As it is, Belize’s revenue for the over 1 million pounds of conch harvested annually is approximately $11 million. But Belize SGA believes that economic impact only represents a fraction of value of the conch and they estimate that 85% to 92% of the conch is thrown away. “The work will continue to educate the stakeholders on the way they see the economic value of the conch. We need to show them that it is worth more than what they currently get on the conch and the way it is harvested… We are hopeful that more fisherfolk will come on board so that we strengthen the cause,” said Schwedinger.
Belize SGA believes that for movement of any byproduct of the Strombus gigas be facilitated, CITES would need to be fully on board since they are the international organization that deals with all forms of protected, threatened and endangered species worldwide. Conch is considered a protected species.
According to James Azueta from the Belize Fisheries Department, the forum in which the Belize SGA made the presentation was not organized by Government agencies of the region, but by various international non-profit organizations. He explained that such a forum is open to any NGO who wishes to submit presentations. Azueta said that while he is aware of the points made by Belize SGA, the reason it was not being fully entertained was because the US-based NGO, Wild Earth Guardians had petitioned the US government to list the queen conch as threatened or endangered under the USA Endangered Species Act (ESA). That petition, explained Azueta, was rejected earlier in November by the US Court.
Notwithstanding the rejected petition, Azueta further explained that as it is, the CITES regulation has benefited Belize tremendously as the conch population has shown constant growth. “That has been contributed largely to the recommended good management mechanism put in place and adopted by fisheries authorities in the region,” said Azueta.
The Belize Fisheries Department has confirmed that currently, beside the exportation of conch flesh, there are at least two license holders who are beginning to export conch shell. One of the permit holders is currently exporting about 20,000 conch shells annually at an estimated $5 each. Those shells have been exported and processed into jewelry amongst other products.
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