In light of the recent confiscations and declining sales of conch shells, pearls and jewellery the ministry of environment and home affairs is seeking to amend legislation to allow for the export of these items throughout the year.
Presently, under the Fisheries Protection Ordinance Regulation 17, conch meat and bi-products, such as shells, jewellery and pearls, may NOT be exported during the closed season, which runs from July until October each year.
This legislation fulfils part of the Turks and Caicos Islands’ (TCI) mandate under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) -- a global agreement to protect wildlife. The ordinance helps the TCI to sustainably manage the queen conch industry and to maintain the vital trade in conch and conch products on the international market. Part of the sustainable management of the fishery includes a closed season for export.
In view of the hardships faced by vendors as a result of the existing legislation, the department of environment and maritime affairs (DEMA) made a formal appeal to CITES for the TCI to be allowed ‘permitted’ export conch shells, pearls and jewellery during the closed season.
CITES has now responded and has agreed to allow the export of the above mentioned products, pending revision of the existing TCI legislation and the submission of the annual CITES report from DEMA. This report must provide scientific documentation that the export of such products during the closed season will not be detrimental to TCI’s queen conch fishery stocks.
A Cabinet paper is being drafted, which will outline the proposed changes to legislation. DEMA is working toward a resolution well in advance of the 2014 closed season, however, the ban will continue until the end of the 2013 closed season on October 15, 2013. At that time, exports of queen conch meat and products can resume.
The ordinance governing the trade in conch and conch products has been in effect in TCI since 2011.
Meanwhile, on Friday, DEMA announced the conch quota for the 2013/2014 season.
In preparation for the upcoming opening of the queen conch (Strombus gigas) fishing season on 15 October, the department met with the CITES Scientific Authority Committee (SAC), Fisheries Advisory Committee (FAC) and industry stakeholders in order to determine a quota that will allow for the sustainable harvest of queen conch this season, while simultaneously supporting fishing livelihoods.
The department noted that queen conch stocks have been in decline in TCI since the passing of hurricanes Ike and Hannah in 2008. As a result, DEMA will undertake a TCIG-approved project to conduct a conch visual survey (CVS), which will help DEMA to determine current stock characteristics and to estimate a total allowable catch (TAC) that can be sustainably harvested. DEMA has begun preliminary work on the CVS, assisted by international expert Dr Paul Medley; however, results from the CVS will not be available until next year.
The 2012-2013 catch for queen conch showed some improvement over the previous year’s catch; however, improvements were not significant enough to merit increasing the quota at this time. Therefore, the quota for 2013-2014 will remain as follows:
• 500,000 lbs. for export
• 320,000 lbs. for local consumption
• 1,000,000 shells for export
For further information contact DEMA at 941-5122.