The Caribbean Queen Conch, Strombus Gigas, is a large Gastropod that lives in a beautiful shell that many times displays an assortment of colors that can spread from pink to orange and sometimes deep red.
This shell can sometimes reach 30cm in length and up to three kilos in weight. Its colorful and sturdy shell--once adult- lends itself to the creation of praised jewelry that can be found on local craft markets or even in jewelry stores. But what it is really famous for are the delicious recipes derived from its succulent and tender meat.
From Conch Salad - to Conch Chowder particularly enjoyable on a windy cool morning - to Conch Fritters and let’s not forget Cracked Conch, which is a meal in itself. Your stay in Abaco wouldn’t be complete without tasting one of these amazing dishes. You will find a variety of Conch dishes in all local restaurants as well as
on the tables of Bahamian households.
Its importance which spread through out the Caribbean cannot be denied. It has been rated as the second most valuable fishery resource for the region after the Spiny Lobster.
Fishing for Conch (aka "Conching")?
Until recently in shallow grassy waters not too far from shore; although, according to some fishermen, they have had to go further away at sea and harvest conch in deeper water. Some reported data has placed the mollusk at a depth of over 200 ft. But usually it is rarely found at a depth of over 100ft.
The Queen Conch is one of the largest of herbivorous Gastropod which explains its preference for shallow waters where sea- grass such as Thalassia and different kind of algae can be found. The conch an also be found on gravel, coral rubble, smooth hard coral and beach rock bottom.
As protected as it is by its shell, Strombus Gigas still have to contend with predators such as the Logger Head Turtle, the Nurse Shark, the Eagle Ray, the Blue Crab , the Spiny Lobster and other Crustaceans.
Historically, fishing sloops with a glass bottom were used to locate the mollusks in a well known fishing area. Men would leave the sloop in small dinghies. Using a long pole they would hook the conchs and bring them to the surface. Currently, this method is practiced to a limited degree in The Bahamas. Nowadays, fishermen go to the fishing grounds for a 1 to 5 days trip, usually no more than a day’s trip from shore.
The caught conchs are then kept on board in corrals or in live-wells until before leaving for the market with freshmeat.
Many fishermen are free divers, using face masks and fins to retrieve as many as eight conchs per dive. Nearly all fishermen cut the mollusk out of its shell near the fishing grounds, on a boat, or a nearby Cay, until it allows them to carry more meat to the market.
The meat is removed by knocking a small hole between the third and fourth whorls (spires). A narrow, sharp blade is then inserted to remove the animal from the central axis of the shell. Salt and lime can be used to wash the conch and stored it, ready for whatever reciepe it will be used for.
After the meat has been cleaned and washed, commercial fishermen place it in plastic bags to be frozen, usually less than 12 hours from the time it was removed from the shell, ready for export.
Fishermen who sell to individuals for immediate consumption usually carry conchs in their shell to be sold from the back of their trucks. They remove the meat out of the shells and clean it while you wait. As you drive on Don Mackay Boulevard, you might notice a fisherman from Cooper’s Town who come comes to Marsh Harbour on Wednesday and Friday to sell his catch.
You may find conch salad on the menu at Colours Restaurant in Marsh Harbour, at Big O on NoName Cay ( off Green Turtle Cay) and at DaValley in Crown Haven.
Information gathered by the Department of Marine Resources in 2008 indicated that based on landings by islands, 203,573 pounds of conchs were landed on Abaco, at a value over 563,000 dollars. According to the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) held in 2013, the total landing of conch on the Family Island was 530.056 pounds valued at 1.4 million dollars. CITES reported than in 2010 the total of conch landed was 554,100pounds which was valued at3.2 million dollars.
In September 12 edition of the Tribune, an article was written on the rising concern of conch exportation to the United States. Wild Earth Guardians, a non- profit environmental organization, made a petition for conch to be registered as an endangered species.
According to Marine Resources Director, Michael Braynen, 600, 000 pounds of conch was exported to the Unites States in 2011 at a value of more than 3.3 million dollars. Braynen concluded that the conch export
industry was made possible because seafood dealers said the amount of conch landed exceeded the demand for conch on the local market. However it will greatly impact the lives of those who depend on
fishing. However , some argue that the only resource we have is our seafood.
Nevertheless, the petition stated that the conch species had been steadily declining and faced threats from overfishing and illegal harvest, water pollution and degradation of shallow water nursery grounds.
Wild Earth Guardians contended that listing the conch under the Endangered Species Act ( ESA) would provide essential protection for the species by eliminated the US import market which currently drove a
substantial majority of conch exports. Additionally, ESA listing would allow for designation of critical habitat to protect vital nursery grounds and exiting spawning stocks, it said.
But just how long will it remain a viable industry for Bahamian fishermen? In the 1980s , the harvesting of conch was banned. It is now illegal to transport live conch in the US waters because it is considered an endangered species. Queen Conch is cosidered a protected species in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wild Life
Conservation Commission, states “that even though Bahamian rules allow the possession of six conch per vessel, there is no exception which allows private recreational vessels to bring Queen Conch back to Florida from The Bahamas even if lawfully purchased there”
Currently the regulation regarding conch fishing is that conch can only be harvested when the shell possesses a well formed flaring lip.This allows the conch to spawn at least once before it enters the fishery.
As for protection of our valuable resource, one fisherman stated “the ocean is a big place. I doubt we would run out of this commodity. Fishermen may have to go farther, but not run out of these resources. There is enough for all fishermen to get, But there are some who are selling our country and that where the problem lies.”
“Fishermen only focus on crawfish, he added, because the price makes a difference. Conch is a lot of hard work, but the ones who process it make the money.”