International — 23 October 2012 — by Adele Ramos

Executive Director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), Milton Haughton, recently back from the 3rd Special Meeting of the Ministerial Council of the CRFM held in Antigua and Barbuda last Thursday, told Amandala this afternoon that leaders in the region are finalizing a position statement to respond to a petition filed in the USA to have the queen conch listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—a move that would wipe out all existing trade of the queen conch between the region and the US, which imports 70% of the conch produced from the Caribbean Sea.

Responses to the WildEarth Guardians petition to ban trade in conch must be submitted by this Friday, October 26, 2012.

“We find that the petition and information in our files present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted,” said Alan D. Risenhoover, Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, in a notice published in August for the US Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “We will conduct a status review of the species to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and commercial information regarding this species…”

Haughton said that the region has to take a very scientific approach in its response, which should incorporate the positions of individual countries, particularly those such as Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, and Turks and Caicos, which are the main exporters.

In light of its recently formalized collaboration with the Central American body, OSPESCA — the Organization for Fisheries and Aquaculture of the Central American Isthmus, the CRFM is also hoping to work with that body in making representations against the trade ban.

A representative of the Belize Fisheries Department had previously said that apart from Belize putting forth its national position on the queen conch—which was cited as a $10 million industry here—it will also work along with two sub-regional organizations, CRFM and OSPESCA, in putting forward a response.

Haughton notes that in 1992, the queen conch was placed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as the Washington Convention (CITES), under which management measures and reporting requirements were stipulated. As a result of that measure, said Haughton, experts in the region know that stocks in the Caribbean are in fairly good shape.

Matthew James, a US national currently based in Dangriga, called Amandala today on behalf of the Dangriga Fishermen’s Association to say that the trade ban threatens the livelihoods of thousands of Belizean fishermen. He acknowledged, however, that those who will be making the decision in the US are not interested in discussing the socio-economic impacts. James said that enough is not being done to protect the interests of local fishermen.

According to Haughton, the US closed their queen conch fishery 20 years ago because their stocks had been depleted, but, he added, queen conch resources are among the best managed in the Caribbean.

Should the US agree with the petition to ban trade, said Haughton, the European Union/European Commission, the next significant importer, could follow suit, especially since they are taking on new legislation to promote sustainable fisheries.

A US ban could result in the complete closure of the entire conch market, said Haughton.

Discussions on possible income substitution for fishers who could have their livelihoods affected have not been thoroughly advanced. For now, fishermen as well as local and regional authorities are focusing on meeting this Friday’s deadline to respond to the US petition to ban trade in queen conch.

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