Queen Conch

Atlantic Cod

Strombus gigas

ALSO KNOWN AS:

    Conch, Pink Conch

SOURCE:

    U.S. wild-caught from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
 

STATUS

  • POPULATION
  • FISHING RATE
  • HABITAT IMPACTS
  • BYCATCH
 

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OVERVIEW

Queen Conch

A queen conch in a seagrass bed.

LAUNCH GALLERY

The queen conch fishery has a long tradition in the Caribbean region. It’s been an easy target for fishermen – conch move slowly, are abundant in shallow waters, and have a vivid, pinkish-rose shell. The meat is sold either fresh or dried and the shells are used in pottery and jewelry. The commercial fishery for this species expanded greatly after the 1970s, as demand for the meat grew in both domestic and foreign markets and a growing tourism industry increased demand for the shells.

Unfortunately, queen conch are particularly vulnerable to overfishing – they grow slowly, aren’t able to reproduce until late in life, and reproduce in groups in shallow water, making them easy to harvest in large quantities. Because queen conch are in such high demand, overharvest has depleted their populations in several areas. In Florida, commercial and sport conch fisheries completely collapsed by the mid-1970s. Managers banned commercial harvest of queen conch in the Florida Keys in 1975, and by 1986 banned all commercial and recreational harvest of the species. Harvest of queen conch continues to be prohibited in the majority of U.S. waters to conserve the resource. There is a small area open in federal waters in the Caribbean around Lang Bank east of St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Queen conch are also harvested in territorial waters of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, mainly St Croix. These fisheries are small and operate under strict regulations.

The United States has taken steps to conserve our native populations of queen conch, but we are also committed to working with the international community to ensure that queen conch remains a sustainable and valuable commercial resource throughout the Caribbean region. The United States is a major importer of queen conch so it’s important we identify appropriate sources, especially because illegal and unsustainable harvest continues to be a concern. Through efforts of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the United States currently prohibits import of queen conch (including meat, shells, live animals, and products made from queen conch) from Haiti and Grenada. Before trade can resume with these countries, they must implement specific long-term conservation measures to sustainably manage queen conch populations in their waters. The United States imports queen conch from other parts of the Caribbean disclaimer not subject to the trade prohibitions.

Looking Ahead

Researchers and entrepreneurs have been raising queen conch in aquaculture operations since wild populations began to decline in the 1970s. Their efforts have focused on hatcheries to enhance wild stocks as well as commercial aquaculture, growing queen conch to market size to offset fishing pressure on wild stocks. While farmed conch is currently available in the market, mainly from Turks and Caicos. Researchers disclaimer continue to look for ways to improve queen conch aquaculture.

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LOCATION & HABITAT

Queen conch are found throughout the Caribbean and in the Gulf of Mexico, south Florida, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Queen conch live in groups numbering in the hundreds in shallow, clear water. They prefer seagrass meadows, coral rubble, algal plains, and sandy bottoms. Macroalgae and sedentary animals can grow on conch shells, providing camouflage for conchs in their various habitats.

There is evidence that juvenile conch migrate from shallow water nursery sites to deeper water areas as they mature. In the Bahamas, adults have been observed to move seasonally from sand plains to hard bottom areas. Tagging data have also shown that conch move seasonally in the Florida Keys.

 
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BIOLOGY

Queen conch can live a long time, up to 30 years. They can grow up to 12 inches in length and 5 pounds. Queen conch are able to reproduce when they reach 3 to 4 years old, when they develop their flared lip. They spawn in the spring as water temperatures rise. Spawning becomes more intense with warmer water temperatures during the summer. They migrate to areas with clean coral sand in shallower water to spawn. Both males and females mate with multiple individuals over the spawning season, which typically lasts 6 months. Their eggs are fertilized internally. Females lay long egg masses containing hundreds of thousands of eggs on patches of bare sand or occasionally seagrass. Eggs hatch after about 72 hours.

Larval conch feed on plankton before settling to the bottom. Adults feed on algae, incidentally ingesting bits of seagrass, macroalgae, sediment, and small bottom-dwelling animals in the process. Crabs, turtles, sharks, and rays feed on queen conch.

 
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PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The queen conch has a large, conical shell with blunt spikes. The shell is typically orange, but often looks gray because it’s covered in algae and debris. The inside of the lip ranges from bright orange to pink. The conch has long eye stalks and a large, tube-like mouth (proboscis) that it can pull into its shell if threatened. They range in size between 6 and 9 inches but can reach a maximum size of 12 inches. As older juveniles mature, they develop a large lip on their shell that continues to thicken as the animal ages.

 
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OVERVIEW

It’s difficult to use traditional finfish assessment methods to assess the queen conch population. For example, scientists cannot accurately age conch because their growth varies widely over different populations. Scientists at NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center attempted to assess queen conch in 2007, but they did not have enough information to assess the species.

 
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POPULATION STATUS

The stock was last assessed in 2012, and because population biomass was below the target threshold, the stock is considered overfished. In general, queen conch have been overharvested throughout their range and their abundance has declined. In 1985, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listed the species as “commercially threatened” due to its steady declines. As abundance continued to fall, CITES downgraded the status of queen conch in 1992, listing it in Appendix II, which requires member nations to manage conch stocks closely and monitor exports carefully to prevent extinction of the species.

 
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Harvesting Queen conch

Queen conch are primarily harvested by hand so the fishery is very selective and there is little, if any, bycatch and little damage to habitat.

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Management

Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council

Many nations, including the United States, now have strict regulations regarding harvest of conch, designed to preserve their stocks. Although the population is overfished, it is no longer experiencing overfishing as a result of some of these strict management changes. To help rebuild populations managers have banned commercial harvest of queen conch in U.S. waters (with the exception of Lang Bank, a small area in federal waters off St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands). Queen conch can be harvested in territorial waters of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, mainly St. Croix.

Current management: Fishery Management Plan for Queen Conch Resources of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

  • Harvest of queen conch is prohibited in the majority of U.S. federal waters surrounding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Florida. There is a small area open in the U.S. Caribbean federal waters around Lang Bank east of St Croix. Queen conch can also be harvested in territorial waters of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, mainly St Croix.
  • Fishing for or possession of queen conch is allowed during November 1 through May 31 in federal waters (only in Lang Bank) and territorial waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, fishing for or possession of queen conch is allowed during November 1 through July 31. These seasonal closures are in place to protect juveniles and spawning conch.
  • Annual catch limit of 50,000 pounds in federal and territorial waters of St. Croix and an annual catch limit of 50,000 pounds in territorial waters of St. Thomas (federal waters are closed).
  • Commercial fishermen can harvest a limited amount of conch per day (specific trip limits vary by area).
  • Minimum size limit of 9 inches (3/8 inches lip thickness) for all jurisdictions (federal, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands). The minimum size limit is an effective way to reduce the overall take of a species, while still allowing anglers to take some queen conch home. This management measure can also be used to protect a certain portion of the queen conch population that may be more vulnerable or could affect the future of the population - for example, very small queen conch or spawning (breeding) queen conch.
  • All queen conch must be brought to port still attached to the shell in the U.S. Virgin Islands (and must be intact while still in federal waters). Conch can be extracted from shell while on boat, but not underwater in Puerto Rico. This measure enhances the enforcement of other queen conch regulations. By requiring fishermen to land the queen conch in the shell, enforcement agents can effectively count the number of individuals the fisherman has harvested under the allowed quota.

While there is no organization coordinating international fishery management in the Caribbean, resource managers from Caribbean countries have created the International Queen Conch Initiative disclaimer to better coordinate international management of the queen conch resource in the region. They first met in 1996 and adopted the Declaration of San Juan, pledging to work together to strengthen management to allow for the sustainable use of queen conch.

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Annual Harvest

In 2011, more than 900,000 pounds of queen conch were harvested.

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Economy

The United States is a major importer of queen conch so it’s important we identify appropriate sources, especially because illegal and unsustainable harvest continues to be a concern. In 1992, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listed queen conch in Appendix II, which includes species that, although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade controls. CITES regulates international trade through a system of permits designed to ensure that trade is legal and will not threaten the species’ survival in the wild. Through these efforts, the United States currently prohibits import of queen conch (including meat, shells, live animals, and products made from queen conch) from Haiti and Grenada. Before trade can resume with these countries, they must implement specific long-term conservation measures to sustainably manage queen conch populations in their waters. The United States imports queen conch from other parts of the Caribbean disclaimer not subject to the trade prohibitions.

In 2011 queen conch harvested in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands was valued at more than $1.7 million. 

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RECREATIONAL

Recreational fishermen can harvest a limited amount of conch per day (specific bag limits vary by area).

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OVERVIEW

Conch has a sweet, slightly smoky flavor, similar to abalone or clam, and an almost crunchy texture. Fresh, farmed conch is sweeter and more tender than frozen, wild conch. Depending on the conch’s size, the meat, raw or cooked, ranges in color from snow-white to a pale, golden-orange. The larger the animal, the darker the meat. The lip on the conch shell continues to thicken as the animal ages. Young “thin-lipped” conchs have more tender meat than larger, “thick-lipped” ones.

Queen conch is sold live, fresh, cooked and frozen, and value-added (canned, chowder, fritters, marinated, etc.). Major suppliers include Jamaica, Turks and Caicos Islands (which also export farmed conch), Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. Conch is also abundant in the Bahamas, but they can only export it as value-added products. (Seafood Business, 2011) disclaimer

 
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SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Year-round.

 
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NUTRITION

Queen conch is a good low-fat source of protein. It is high in vitamins E and B12, magnesium, selenium, and folate, but is also high in cholesterol.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g
Calories 130
Protein 26.3 g
Fat, total 1.2 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.37 g
Carbohydrate 1.7 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 65 mg
Selenium 40.3 mcg
Sodium 153 mg

Queen Conch Table of Nutrition

 
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RECIPES

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