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Mar 22, 2019

Fisheries Department Responds to Conch Quota Concerns

Since the beginning of the week, News Five has been taking an in-depth look at the state of Belize’s conch fishery.  There have been serious concerns raised about enforcement of fisheries regulations in various hotspots, including Zone Three in the waters of southern Belize.  Tonight, the Fisheries Department responds to those concerns, discussing the existing quota system as well as the assessment of conch stock and its consumption on the local market.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Central to the sustainability of the conch fishery is a quota system determined by the Belize Fisheries Department.  It’s a scientific method used to arrive at a proportional share which is to be harvested during each conch season.


Ramon Carcamo

Ramon Carcamo, Fisheries Officer

“The quota system is in existence in Belize for the conch fishery since 2003.  It is a compliance that the Department of Fisheries has implemented in Belize to compliment the requirement by CITES, the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species.  So we have done that and that requirement is to do an assessment, a national assessment of the conch population.”


As far as export, Executive Director Amanda Acosta, of the Belize Audubon Society, agrees that the quota is a collective effort involving government and co-managers of the respective zones.


Amanda Acosta

Amanda Acosta, Exec. Dir., Belize Audubon Society

“So conchs, when it comes to exportation, goes through the cooperatives and so there is a quota established by the Fisheries Department which co-managers and Fisheries Department collects data preseason and postseason to the conchs and that data is then used to determine the quota; so a sustainable yield that can be extracted.  That is then used at the co-ops to then establish the quota of what can be exported.”


The potential issue of conch being over-fished has raised significant concerns about the existing method used to establish the quota.  Ramon Carcamo, a Fisheries Officer with expertise in this field, explains the process.


Ramon Carcamo

“The key model that we use is the surplus production model which determines the abundance and biomass, meaning what we call the maximum sustainable yield.  That is a key, very important reference point that tells us how much conchs is out there and how much can be taken.  Now the department then adopts a precautionary approach in determining what is the maximum economic yield.  It’s a value or quantity less than what was the calculated primary.  From there we then calculate the quota.  The quota then comes, it’s estimated which is about seventy-five percent of the maximum economic yield.  And so, from that we then distribute the quota to the fishing cooperatives, to the main fishing cooperatives and the fish companies that participate in the conch fishery.”


Of equal concern is that the quota system does not necessarily reflect the total amount for domestic consumption.  This may very well add to the notion that conch is indeed being over-fished in our waters.


Amanda Acosta

“We do have local consumption that is largely, it can go unregulated because it’s not going through the cooperatives.  It doesn’t even have to go through a landing site and so it’s largely undetermined.  It is really based on the consumer and the consumer knowing the product.  So if you’re wise and you know your size lengths or your conch shell and the size lengths and the mass that your conch should have.  For instance, like your lobster, you know, you have a four ounce limit and those kinds of factors, then you would have to be the wise consumer and know [that] conch is either in season or out of season or this is an undersized conch.”


And that’s where it gets contentious.  The Fisheries Department says that it does in fact evaluate the trade of conch internally.  To clear up any misconception that the local market is unregulated, the Fisheries Department assures that an evaluation is done once a year.


Ramon Carcamo

“When we do this assessment, normally it’s done in August and September, that’s the period that we do the assessment for us to declare the quota in October.  While the assessment is done, we also gather data on the catch landings of the different fishing cooperatives.  By law, it’s required that each fishing cooperative and company report their previous catches on a monthly basis.  In addition, the middle men, who are now selling conchs in a restaurant, hotel or the fish markets, they are obligated also to report that information.  We also go and interview these guys to come up with estimates of how many conch are being moved or captured by these guys.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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