Threat of ban on Belize conch imports into the United States could endanger the Caribbean country's multi-million dollar queen conch industry.
Belize's conch industry is valued at BZD$10 million (US$5 million) annually but it could virtually be wiped out if the United States Congress institutes a widespread ban against the importation of the seafood delicacy.
Currently, the United States purchases 95% of Belize's queen conch harvest, but in March of this year the WildEarth Guardians, a non-governmental organisation in Denver, Colorado petitioned the US Secretary of Commerce, acting through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to have the species listed as threatened or endangered.
According to James Azueta, acting fisheries administrator at the Belize Fisheries Department, if the petition is granted and the Queen Conch status is downgraded from appendix II to I (prohibited trade) under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), no country will be able to export conch to the USA or any other country.
This year, fisheries authorities have set a quota (or a total allowable catch) of just over a million pounds, which represents 75% of the maximum sustainable yield. The quota system has been in place since 2006 as Belize is mandated to report on its conch production and trade under its CITES obligations.
Additionally, Belize has this year introduced managed access to the Glovers Reef Marine Reserve and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve.
By year-end, it hopes to have in place new fisheries legislation that will incorporate the new managed access regime, as well as stiffer penalties for infractions of fisheries laws.
According to Azueta, Belize is furthermore moving towards introducing a quota system for lobster and size limits for certain finfish species.