Economic Importance

A large pile of conch shells discarded after fishermen had removed the meat (10).

Queen conchs have always been a key resource to the Caribbean people. They have extensive culinary and even medicinal uses that have supported people of the region for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years (2). In the 1970s, when the Caribbean saw a huge increase in tourism and global demand for conch meat skyrocketed, non-regulated and mismanaged fisheries resulted in the queen conch populations being fished almost to extinction (2). Today, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists S. gigas as an Appendix II species; meaning that the species is “not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless trade/fishing is regulated” (4). Consequently, conch fishing has been banned in all Floridian and US federal waters. CITES also discourages countries from importing conch meat from countries fostering mismanaged fisheries, such as in Honduras, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic (4).

The figure shows total Belizean conch landings over time since the 1970s (5). Note the major decline in landings since the early 1970s, an indicator of the fishery collapse due to overfishing pressures and the mis-managed fishery.

Today, Queen conch meat is still in high demand all over the globe and has risen steadily over the years. As a result, conch landings have increased dramatically since the 1970s – before the commercialization and tourism boom  of the Caribbean region. Conchs are still overfished and poached down to near extinction levels. However, conch mariculture has taken some pressure off wild populations and allowed the export of conch meat to grow and continue to satisfy global demand.

The figure shows total landings (in tons) of conch from the Caribbean (5). Notes the steady increase in export over time. This begs the question: can fishing of wild populations and mariculture be managed well enough to continue to satisfy global demand while allowing the species to maintain high enough populations to be free from the threat of extinction?

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