During the summer of 2009 Community Conch completed its first field study in the Berry Islands of The Bahamas. This study was developed subsequent to meetings in March 2009 between marine scientists of Community Conch and The Bahamas Department of Marine Resources (DOMR).
Officials at DOMR expressed an urgent need for baseline queen conch density data within a new marine reserve in the southern Berry Islands as well as for the primary fishing grounds in the island group.
Additional meetings were held with interested persons at the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), and the Bahamas office of The Nature Conservancy (TNC); all supported this research focus as being essential for The Bahamas queen conch fishery.
The specific objectives of the Berry Islands field study were to:
- Provide baseline stock density and distribution data for queen conch inside the new MPA and for comparison, in surrounding areas.
- Collect density data for the important fishing grounds that occur on the south and northwest sectors of the Berry Islands bank.
- Gain local knowledge and encourage community involvement by interviewing Berry Islands residents and fishermen about the status of the conch fishery, trends they have observed, and their ideas on its management and attitudes about the MPA.
Our research suggests that queen conch populations will continue to decline in the Berry Islands fishing grounds.
Based on our extensive surveys of the area, we estimate that there are roughly 2.54 million conchs on the Berry Islands bank. However, the number of subadult conchs was found to be significantly less at 1.61 million, which indicates the future fishery population of adult conchs could decrease by 60 percent without a change in fishery management.
We have also determined that conch reproduction is very low throughout the Berry Islands. Although we conducted our study during mating season, we only recorded mating activity in 15 of 300 surveyed locations. Generally, the density of conch (number of individuals per hectare) was much lower than needed to support successful mating in all but a very few surveyed locations.
Based on our most current data, we recommend the following measures:
- Catch and landing data should be collected to develop an annual catch quota.
- The Marine Protected Area should be moved to a location of greater conch density, or expanded to include other nurseries.
- Fishing regulations should be changed to prohibit the use of hookah equipment to catch queen conch, that conch be landed in the shell, and that a minimum shell length thickness be set for harvested conch.
- Institute a three-month closed season during the summer when conch reproduce.
- Initiate government funding to enforce existing and proposed regulations.
- Organize community meetings to discuss management alternatives and enlist community help with enforcement.