September 29, 2003
“The United States is the world’s largest marketplace for queen conch, accounting for 80 percent of the legal trade,” said Service Director Steve Williams. “We are joining our CITES partners in implementing and enforcing this global conservation action to make sure queen conch is a sustainable and valuable commercial resource throughout the Caribbean region.”
A similar embargo on international trade under CITES is already in place for queen conch and conch products from four other Caribbean countries– Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; and Trinidad and Tobago. Before trade can resume, each of these seven countries must implement a number of long-term conservation measures, such as conducting population surveys and developing scientifically sound species management programs to ensure the sustainability of its conch population.
Queen conch, an edible marine snail recognized worldwide by its large, beautiful pink shell, is found throughout the Caribbean Sea, including Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda. Heavily fished for its meat, a tourist favorite, its shells and pearls are sought after by collectors and for jewelry, making queen conch one of the most important Caribbean fisheries. This species is vulnerable to commercial exploitation as once it is depleted, it can take many years to recover.
The Service is the federal agency responsible for implementing CITES in this country. Working with its Federal partners, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Commerce Department’s NOAA-Fisheries, The Service promotes regional cooperation, scientifically-based management plans, and enhanced law enforcement capabilities. Marking its 30th anniversary this year, CITES is a treaty to which the U.S. and some 160 other nations belong, including Honduras and the Dominican Republic. The treaty provides for the monitoring and regulating of international commerce in wild animal and plant species through a system of permits.
Since the mid-1980's, the State of Florida and the Federal government have banned all harvest of native queen conch populations found in State of Florida waters and adjacent Federal waters. In 1992, the U.S. proposal to place queen conch on CITES appendix II was adopted by the CITES parties. An appendix II listing includes species that, although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade controls. These controls ensure trade is legal and does not threaten the species’ survival in the wild.
“Although the U.S. is temporarily closing its doors to queen conch imports from these three countries in order to give these populations an opportunity to recover, Americans can still purchase this commodity from other countries where legal trade is allowed,” Williams said. “However, we are now asking U.S. tourists who visit the Caribbean to take care before purchasing any queen conch meat or souvenirs because they chance having it confiscated upon their return.”
To learn more about queen conch please visit the following websites:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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