Impending Trade Suspensions of Caribbean Queen Conch under CITES: A Case Study on Fishery Impacts and Potential for Stock Recovery
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Authority issued injunctions in 2003 and 2004 to halt export trade of Caribbean queen conch (Strombus gigas) from several countries and initiated reviews of a number of other conch-producing countries. The current regula- tory framework for regional conch fisheries has obviously failed to protect stocks. I present a case study of the Belize conch fishery to examine fishing impacts, effectiveness of existing regulations, and potential for population recovery. Fishery-independent data from a no-take marine reserve indicated that unfished density and biomass were nearly an order of magnitude greater than in comparable fished areas. Size structure of the protected population showed that an average of 38% of the legal catch may consist of juvenile conch. The spawning potential ratio indicated that the fished stock is severely over- exploited, and furthermore, the protected population has not compensated to make the local fishery sustainable. Under these conditions, a moratorium under CITES may be warranted. Until stock assessment models are refined, action should be taken to reduce juvenile fishing mortality, extend closed seasons, and enforce a network of functional no-take reserves in essential habitat.