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CITES suspends trade in queen conch shellfish
Geneva, 1 October 2003 – Growing evidence that stocks of queen conch (Strombus gigas) – a sea mollusc, or shellfish, whose beautiful pinkish shell can attain 30 cm in length and three kilos in weight – are starting to collapse throughout the Caribbean has led the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to intervene to protect this important resource from overexploitation.
“Despite collaboration between CITES and the queen conch range States over the past six years, this species continues to decline,” said CITES Deputy Secretary-General Jim Armstrong. “Because we cannot stand by and allow this valuable natural resource to disappear, we are announcing today that stronger measures will be taken to regulate the fishery and promote its recovery.”
In response to recommendations from CITES in August, two key range States, the Dominican Republic and Honduras, have agreed from 29 September 2003 to stop until further notice the export of all specimens of queen conch. They have also committed themselves to fully implementing the recovery programme outlined by the CITES Animal Committee, which includes more rigorous population surveys and more effective regulation of the national fishing industry.
Meanwhile, CITES has determined that Haiti, also a key range State, has not implemented the recommended actions within the agreed time-frame. Consequently, the CITES Standing Committee is asking all member governments of CITES to suspend the importation of queen conch from Haiti until it implements the earlier recommendations.
Distributed throughout the Caribbean, from the State of Florida in the United States to the northern coast of South America, queen conch is found in the territorial waters of at least 36 countries and dependent territories. They primarily inhabit sandy seafloors in clean, shallow waters, but also occur at depths of up to 100 metres. In November 1992 the species was included in Appendix II of CITES, which requires that CITES permits be issued for all exports.
Although queen conch has been harvested for food for centuries, a large commercial fishery has developed only in the last few decades, mainly in response to growing international demand for the meat. Today, the species is one of the most important fishery resources in the Caribbean, with an annual wholesale value estimated at US$60 million. The shells are also used and traded as curios and tourist souvenirs, although they are largely considered a by-product of the meat trade.
Over the past few decades, intensive fishing pressure has led to population declines, stock collapses and consequently the total or temporary closure of the fishery in a number of countries, states or dependent territories, including in Bermuda (UK), Cuba, Colombia, Florida (US), Mexico, the Netherlands Antilles, the Virgin Islands (US) and Venezuela.
Overfishing for domestic and international trade is the primary factor for these population declines, although habitat degradation may also be a factor, especially the loss of important nursery habitats such as shallow-water seagrass meadows close to the shore.
Between 1993 and 1998, the total annual landings of queen conch meat ranged between 6,500 tons and 7,300 tons. Since then, annual landings have fallen and were 5,500 tons in 1999, 4,500 tons in 2000 and 3,100 tons in 2001. The largest landings have been reported from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Honduras, with each country declaring annual landings of around 1,000 tons of meat.
Seventy-eight per cent of all queen conch meat in international trade is imported by the US [including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (United States)], followed by France (including Guadeloupe and Martinique) which imported 19 percent of all meat reported in international trade between 1992 and 2001.
Queen conch is one of the seven species of the family Strombidae that occur in the Western Atlantic Ocean. Queen conch is known by various names throughout its range, including: Botuto or Guarura (Venezuela); Cambombia (Panama); Cambute (Costa Rica); Caracol abulon (Guatemala); Caracol gigante (Honduras); Caracol pala (Colombia); Caracol rosado (Mexico); Carrucho (Puerto Rico); Cobo (Cuba); and Lambi (Hispaniola and French Antilles).
Note to journalists: For more information, please contact Michael Williams, Press Officer, United Nations Environment Programme, Geneva, Switzerland tel. +41 79 4091528, email: michael.williams [at] unep.ch; or Juan Carlos Vasquez, CITES Media Officer, CITES Secretariat, Geneva, Switzerland tel. +41 22 9178156, email: juan.vasquez [at] unep.ch
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