PLACING the Queen Conch on the ‘endangered species list’ could be “catastrophic” for the Bahamas and other Caribbean countries, the Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources said yesterday, adding that conch harvesting for local consumption was pumping $6 million annually into this nation’s fisheries sector.

In his address at the opening ceremony for the 6th meeting of the ACP Fish II Programme steering committee, Mr Gray called on CARICOM to help ensure the Queen conch (Strobus gigas) is never added to this list.

Last year, Wild Earth Guardians, a non-profit environmental activist organisation, filed a petition in the US to list the queen conch under the Endangered Species Act. Such a move would eliminate all conch trade between the Caribbean and the US, which currently imports more than 70 per cent of the remaining regional conch harvest - including some 600,000 pounds, worth roughly $3.3 million a year, from the Bahamas.

“In the Bahamas, the food component of the conch accounts for about 500,000-plus pounds of production in that area alone, which amounts to about $6 million in value to the fisheries sector of our economy,” Mr Gray said.

“CITES has allowed us to export only 570,000 pounds, and we guard that figure very jealously because we believe that to export any more than they have permitted us to do could endanger the continued export of conch, and so we continue to hold fast to the export figures that is allowed by CITES.

“Some organisations in the US want to add the Queen conch to the list of endangered species. If that were to happen, it could be catastrophic to the Bahamas and the fishers of the country, and I believe it would be just as catastrophic to some of the other countries in the region but more so the Bahamas because we do not have too many industries.”

Other countries that still export conch are Belize, Honduras and the Turks & Caicos Islands. Mr Gray said eliminating conch exports would have a significant impact on the Bahamian fisheries sector.

“We have asked, directly and indirectly, and I will repeat the call, for CARICOM to help us in preventing such a move to be successful,” the Minister said.

“Help us to ensure that the Queen conch is never added to the endangered species list.

“We will do nothing, and have done nothing, to endanger the species, and there is no need to put it on an endangered species list. The Bahamas has taken every possible step to ensure that we study the Queen conch, we get the empirical evidence and data required to know what the facts are and will continue to do so.”

Mr Gray added that illegal and unregulated fishing in the Bahamas was also a major concern. “We know the Bahamas is not the only country that has fishermen from all over coming to poach,” he said.

“We must join our collective resources to ensure that we prevent as much as is humanly possible, and eliminate wherever possible, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in our waters.

“The Bahamas has made several bold steps to ensure the prevention of such activities. The law is being changed to represent that concern. What used to be a fine of $50,000 could easily be a fine of $500,000. What used to be confiscation could also include imprisonment.”

The ACP Fish II programme is a four-and-a-half year programme financed by the European Development Fund on behalf of ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of states) countries.

The programme’s aim is to improve fisheries management in ACP countries so as to ensure that fisheries resources under their jurisdiction are exploited in a sustainable manner.