Features — 19 October 2012 — by Adele Ramos
Belize to defend $10 mil queen conch industry as US prepares to review petition for trade ban

2012 conch survey results and quota of a million pounds announced by Belize Fisheries Dept.

The Belize Fisheries Department this morning met in a two-hour session with fishers from across the country, as they unveiled the results of the 2012 national conch survey, decided on this year’s catch quotas and discussed a pending petition before the US Congress that could see a ban on conch trade with the US, which purchases 95% of Belize’s queen conch harvest.

Acting Fisheries Administrator James Azueta, Fisheries Officer at the Belize Fisheries Department, told journalists after this morning’s meeting that although Belize can currently trade conch, it has been mandated under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention) since 2006 to report on conch production.

The Queen Conch (Strombus gigas), which is prevalent in the Caribbean, Mexico and parts of Central America, such as Honduras, is listed under appendix II of CITES, which means that all trade has to be documented.

In March of this year, the NGO, WildEarth Guardians, of Denver, Colorado, submitted a petition to the U.S. 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.

If the petition is granted and the Queen Conch status is downgraded from appendix II to I (prohibited trade), no country will be able to export conch to the USA or any other country, said Azueta.

This pending US petition will also be discussed at an upcoming ministerial meeting of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), slated to be held in Antigua and Barbuda on Thursday, October 18, 2012. The 3rd Special Meeting of the Ministerial Council of the CRFM is being held to coincide with the Caribbean Week of Agriculture, October 14 to 20, being observed under the theme: ”Celebrating Youth and Gender in Caribbean Agriculture — Each Endeavoring, All Achieving.”

Azueta told Amandala that apart from Belize putting up its national position on the queen conch petition, it will also work along with two sub-regional organizations, CRFM and OSPESCA (the Organization for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Central American Isthmus) which will also present their positions by the October 26 deadline.

Azueta said that Belize’s conch industry is valued at $10 million annually. 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, he said, has been in place since 2006.

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.

(Author’s Note: See press release elsewhere in this issue captioned, “USA considers listing Queen Conch as threatened or endangered.”)

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