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WECAFC Hosts Back to Back Meetings

Image: The Queen Conch has been listed by CITES as a species for which trade must be controlled to avoid extinction.

TWO important meetings led by the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission (WECAFC) recently held in San Juan, Puerto Rico resulted in urgent approvals for two socio-economically and environmentally important fisheries for the wider Caribbean region.

Image: The Queen Conch has been listed by CITES as a species for which trade must be controlled to avoid extinction.
The Queen Conch has been listed by CITES as a species for which trade must be controlled to avoid extinction.

The Working Group on Queen Conch (WGQC) and on Spawning Aggregations (SAWG)’s meeting was held 16-19 December 2019, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Attending were officials from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Caribbean Fishery Management Council (CFMC), Central American Fisheries and Aquaculture Organization (OSPESCA), Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries).

The meeting gathered government officials and scientists from Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Jamaica, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and The United States of America with overarching concerns on the exploitation of Queen Conch. These concerns have led CITES to list Queen Conch species for which trade must be controlled to avoid extinction and is now subjected to management measures.

The officials also discussed the implementation of the Regional Queen Conch Fisheries Management and Conservation Plan, and highlighted among critical issues, the need to strengthen the regional efforts in ensuring sustainable exploitation and trade of the species and the transparency in data collection and storage for properly informed management actions. The recent development on the issue of listing of queen conch as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of the US Federal Law and its potential socio-economic impacts for conch exporting countries, and the impact of pollution (plastic additives, microplastics) on the reproduction function of conch were also key discussion topics.

Maren Headley, Representative of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism and Convener of the Queen Conch Working Group stated, “The QCWG meeting was timely and offered sound scientific and technical advice which CRFM Member States can use to sustainably manage their queen conch fisheries.”

The Caribbean Queen Conch catches take place in 36 countries and overseas territories. It is the second most important (in terms of volume, value and socioeconomic significance) species after Spiny lobster in the WECAFC region. At present the main producer of Queen Conch is Nicaragua with 11 000 tonnes in 2017, followed by Jamaica, Bahamas and Belize.

The Caribbean Fishery Management Council (CFMC), WECAFC, Central American Fisheries and Aquaculture Organization (OSPESCA) and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) Working Group on Spawning Aggregations met 18-19 December. The meeting discussed the spawning aggregations of the reef fish, mainly groupers and snappers that have a high ecological, biological and socio-economic value and are significant for marine biodiversity in the region.

Many reef fish species’ ranges transcend boundaries of over 40 nations that are connected by ocean currents and intertwined economies, and millions of people in communities and nations throughout the Western Central Atlantic depend on coral reef fisheries for food security and sustainable livelihoods from fishing and tourism industries. Their spawning aggregations are vulnerable, due to insufficient management.

Dr Yvonne Sadovy, University of Hong Kong, Director of Science and Conservation of Spawning Aggregations and primary author of the Fish Spawning Aggregation Fishery Management Plan stated passionately that, “Spawning aggregations are the only time that reef fish reproduce. If they cannot reproduce THEN they cannot CREATE the next generation. If they don’t have the next generation, you don’t have a fishery and there will be tremendous losses to fisher livelihoods and food security.”

In spite of regional declines, fishery managers, consumers, and the general public are generally unaware of the plight of aggregating species. This led to the approval of a Draft Regional Fish Spawning Aggregation Fishery Management Plan with focus on Nassau Grouper and Mutton Snapper.

Dr William Heyman, LGL Ecological Research Associates and Convener of the Working Group explained that, “The momentum on FSA conservation and management is growing. The next steps include implementation of the management plan and communications strategy, updating regional FSA status reports and developing and sharing a regional system to monitor recovery, which includes the involvement of fishers throughout the region”.

Dr Yvette Diei Ouadi, Secretary of WECAFC, praised the valuable support from NOAA Fisheries through CFMC. She stated that invaluable support was also received from The Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Union (DG MARE), through the FAO executed project, “Support to the Implementation of the Regional Plan for the Management and Conservation of Queen Conch”.

Dr Diei Ouadi stressed the importance of the enforcement of the recommendations from the review of the status of the regional Queen Conch Management and Conservation Plan. She explained that equally important is the timely gathering of the best scientific and commercial data available to determine whether listing of the queen conch species as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted.

The overarching results of the deliberations and outcomes of both meetings is to ensure that the actual benefits of these fisheries for food and nutrition security, income earning, livelihoods and healthy ecosystems is effectively secured and protected.

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