CRFM hopes US reject petition to ban import of Caribbean conch

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) says its hopes data it supplied to the United States would convince authorities there not to list the queen conch as an endangered species, as a non-governmental organisation from Colorado has requested.

The CRFM has requested on behalf of the Caribbean Community that the United States-CARICOM Council on Trade and Investment reject the petition of WildEarth Guardians, calling on U.S. authorities to list the queen conch as a "threatened" or "endangered" species under the USA Endangered Species Act.

The United States is expected to give a ruling in early November, and if the species is listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, conch exports from the CARICOM States to the United States market would be prohibited.

Executive Director of CRFM, Milton Haughton, told a press conference at Caribbean Week of Agriculture on Friday that the CRFM opposes WildEarth Guardians' petition on the basis that its data is "outdated" and "in many cases just wrong".

He said the CRFM has given US authorities information regarding the current status of the queen conch stocks in the Caribbean and the legislation governing their harvesting.

Haughton said queen conch is a very important species for the export market, adding that it is high value, highly traded, but easily over harvested.

"And in fact, in the 1990s, stocks had declined in many, many countries in the region. Since then most of our countries worked hard in investing a lot of resources in rebuilding these stocks and in many countries, the stocks are in fairly good state," he said, adding that in Jamaica and Belize stock have quadrupled since the governments intervened.

"The petitioner based their petition on a lot of old information that might have been true 20 years ago; but the situation now is different, and we have been able to provide the US with a lot of relevant information," Haughton told reporters.

"Listing the species as an endangered species is just not warranted," he said.

Haughton said that many years ago, the US' own stocks were depleted and they depend on the region for the conch they consume. "That is an important dimension, so maintaining the industry and maintaining the trade is in our interest. Many, many communities, many, many families in the Caribbean depend on the queen conch for their livelihoods.

"� on the basis of the scientific information and the data we have available, � we cannot see a finding of endangered being made in this context," he said.

The US' decision will come less than a month after CARICOM's ministerial council on agriculture approved the Community Common Fisheries Policy (CCCFP), a regional treaty on conservation, management and sustainable utilisation of fisheries resources.

Haughton said that the adoption of the policy, which took place on Friday, is an important strategic decision in repositioning the fisheries sector to be more sustainable, and to enhance the contribution it will make to socio-economic development within CARICOM in the long term.

He said the fisheries sector is an important source of employment for thousands of poor and marginalized people, and an important course of food.