Conch season to close next Monday
The annual closing of the conch fishing season takes effect midnight, next Monday, April 23, two months before it typically closes and the earliest the season has ever closed, we understand.
On Friday, April 13, Fisheries Minister Lisel Alamilla met in Belize City with officials of the Belize Fisheries Department and leaders of the fishing industry to discuss the “exhaustion of the conch quota” by fishing cooperatives during the current season.
It was agreed that fishermen would have ten days from April 13, the date of the meeting, to conclude their operations. Deliveries of conch to the cooperatives and sales would cease at midnight on April 23, as the closed season will take effect on April 24.
The traditional closed season for conch, according to the Fisheries Department, runs from June 30 to September 30.
According to the Fisheries Department, by the time the fishermen haul in their nets next week, the quota of conch under the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), already increased to 85%, will be approaching 90%, which they contend will not allow the conch stock to properly replenish itself, resulting in unnecessary loss of a species already deemed endangered.
James Azueta, acting administrator for the Fisheries Department, today explained that the typical MSY is 764,970 lbs, 75% is the quota. This year, that was increased to 85%, or 866,251 lbs, but even so, the numbers keep rising.
Azueta attributes the rise to a greater number of fishermen employed in the trade, which in Belize is open access for persons resident in Belize, citizen or not, for six months, to obtain a license.
He also told us that Belize has been enjoying good weather and last year was spared major storms and hurricanes, which typically help to increase the stock.
A national survey done every two years is coming up in July, which Azueta told us will help the Fisheries Department to assess whether an increase in the quota is needed to keep up with the trends.
The Department is currently conducting an inventory of restaurants selling co nch (used as a popular ingredient in conch soup, conch fritters and conch ceviche) and has set a time limit of May 12 to deplete all conch in stock. Exports of conch by the major processing companies, including Belize City-based National Fishermen Cooperative Society and Northern Fishermen Cooperative Society, and by visitors to Belize (at a limit of 20 lbs per person) will be allowed only up to April 30.
The closure runs until September 30, concurrently with the lobster season, which closed in February and reopens in mid-June.
Azueta told us that the Department would consider returning to the regular closed season schedule next year if the quota is not reached.
In a related story, a spokeswoman for National Fishermen Producers Coop told us this afternoon that that company has not made a decision as to what it will do with its staff and intends to sit down shortly and discuss it in light of an imminent closure. The factory on Angel Lane has slowed down now that the cooperative no longer produces fish for export, and lobster and now conch are in closed season.
We left a message for the general manager of Northern Fishermen Cooperative Society Ltd. on North Front Street, to discuss that company’s plans, but as of press time, he has yet to return our call. Amandala