Recently the Nature Foundation found numerous immature conch being harvested in the anchorage zone of Simpson Bay. Based on Nature Foundation research 70% of the harvested conchs did not form a so called ‘flared lip’ and are considered to be immature, the remaining 30% had a recently formed lip but are also still not mature.
Queen conch have been heavily overfished in the Caribbean due to uncontrolled harvesting and increased demand and are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since 1992. In order to protect conch stocks from overexploitation it is very important to not harvest immature conchs, to give the animals a chance to reproduce and secure new generations for the future. Harvesting of immature queen conch can cause heavy depletion of the population.
When Queen conch (Lobatus gigas) are about 3.5 years old the shell length is at its maximum (200 to 300 mm) and the edge of the shell lip turns outward to form the flared lip, thereafter growth continues in lip thickness. Maturity in queen conch occurs somewhere after the formation of the lip, however the thickness of the lip at maturity varies a bit in the Caribbean region.
Studies applicable to our region found that only 50% of the population is mature at a lip thickness of 10-15 mm, which indicates that the harvested conchs found by the Foundation are all immature. On St. Maarten a license is required and there is a minimum size regulation of 180 mm in Shell Length for fishing on queen conch (Visserijbesluit PB 2010, nr. 74), however these regulations still allow for the harvesting of immature conchs. The Nature Foundation has therefore suggested to Government that based on its recent findings fishing regulations need to be revised based on lip thickness instead of shell length.
Nature Foundation is significantly concerned about the harvest of immature queen conch, especially considering that conch stock on St Maarten is already depleted and of risk of becoming non-existent.