Fisherman in his boat with his conch catch
Conch season at Lighthouse Reef
Conch Season, 1985
by Jayson Forman
When I first tasted conch, it had been freshly harvested from the sea floor by my dad. He cracked open a slit in the shell and showed me how to slice the muscle enough so that it would loosen its grip from inside of the shell and pull it out from its very sharp claw.
He told me that conch is the most earth friendly food to eat because nothing is wasted. The thin slice that’s not eaten is used for bait and even the shell can be thrown back into the sea for recycling by a juvenile conch, polished and used as household decoration, or, at that time, mixed in with cement and used as part of the floor foundation in cement houses.
I was hesitant to eat such an unusual alien looking muscle that was still very much alive but my dad assured me it would be ok so I blanked out the thought of the barbaric experience and took a bite. Considering that there was no lime, nor spices nor vinegar added to it, it was not bad at all.
That was the beginning of a love affair with everything made out of conch.
It wasn’t uncommon to see fishermen spending hours on the beach shelling so many conch that it would amass a pile rising out of the shallow water.
My dad said that in order for me to truly appreciate what all goes into the conch industry I should join my cousins and go harvest it with them.
It should have been a red flag when at 4 o’clock in the morning I found myself hopping on the boat with my cousins heading to a popular area where conch were known to be abundant. My cousins got into the water with their snorkel gear while tethered to a canoe which was used for collecting the shells.
I had an “ingenious idea” of using a backpack instead because there weren’t enough canoes for all of us and I wanted to collect some on my own.
My cousins were concerned that it might get too heavy and weigh me down but off I went in search of adventure.
They were right about the backpack idea. Not so much the weight but the fact that after putting the shells in the bag, the mollusks would start wandering about and their sharp claws would sometimes dig into my back. I decided I’d grab just 1 more Queen conch that seemed partially submerged under sand.
As I approached it, I tried to fan the sand off it when, to my horror, the entire mound of sand started to move and quickly bolted towards me, barely missing the top of my head.
Seconds later, I felt the conch claws even more prominent on my back so I decided to call it quits and headed to the boat.
As 1 of my cousins helped me get on board, I told him that I had seen what looked like the biggest and ugliest sea roach looking thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
As he started to take the backpack off me, he said,
“oh I think I know what you’re talking about. It was a slipper lobster!”
“Slipper Lobster? Never heard of it. What makes you think that’s what it was?”
“Too late, I’m already freaking out. Just tell me!”
“Because it’s clinging to your back right now. Looks like it got stuck between the bag and your back!”
He cautiously helped me remove my shirt and that’s the first time I ever saw (or knew) that such a prehistoric looking hideous thing existed.
He then told me that they are actually tastier than regular lobster. I think boiling lobsters are even more barbaric than eating live conch but it conveniently didn’t bother me to eat this particular lobster because the experience was so traumatizing that I wouldn’t wear a backpack to school for months after that.
By the way, have you seen lobsters swimming? They are surprisingly fast propelling themselves with their tails.