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Queen Conch

Strombus gigas

Queen conch

Also Known As

  • Conch
  • Pink conch
  • Carrucho
  • Caracol Reina
  • Lobatus gigas

U.S. wild-caught queen conch is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed under a rebuilding plan that allows limited harvest by U.S. fishermen.

Population

Significantly below target population levels. Rebuilding plan is in place.

Fishing Rate

At recommended level.

Habitat Impacts

Primarily harvested by hand, so there is little impact on habitat.

Bycatch

Primarily harvested by hand, so the fishery is very selective and there is little, if any, bycatch.

  • Availability

    Year-round.

  • Source

    U.S. wild-caught from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but U.S. harvest is very limited.

  • Taste

    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.

  • Texture

    Young “thin-lipped” conchs have more tender meat than larger, “thick-lipped” ones.

  • Color

    Depending on the conch’s size, the meat ranges in color from snow white to a pale, golden orange. The larger the animal, the darker the meat.

  • Health Benefits

    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.

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council manage the queen conch fishery in federal waters. The governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgins Islands manage the queen conch fishery in their territorial waters.
  • Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for Queen Conch Resources of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in federal waters, and under Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands regulations in territorial waters:
    • Commercial and recreational harvest is generally banned in U.S. federal waters.
    • Seasonal and area closures protect juvenile and spawning conch.
    • Annual catch limits.
    • Daily commercial trip limits, recreational bag limits, and minimum size limits apply to queen conch harvest in both federal and territorial waters.
    • Annual quota for harvest of queen conch in territorial waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
    • Requirements to keep queen conch attached to the shell in federal waters and when landed in the U.S. Virgin Islands allow for effective counting by enforcement agents.
  • The International Queen Conch Initiative was established by resource managers from Caribbean countries to coordinate international management of queen conch in the region. 

Harvest

  • Commercial landings of queen conch meat from Puerto Rico (territorial waters) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (federal and territorial waters) for 2013-2015 averaged 326,000 pounds.
  • Queen conch are primarily caught by hand, so there is minimal impact on habitat and little bycatch.
  • The queen conch fishery has a long tradition in the Caribbean region. The meat is sold either fresh or dried and the shells are used in pottery and jewelry.
  • The United States is a major importer of queen conch, due to the limited harvest allowed in federal waters and U.S. Virgin Islands territorial waters.

The Science

Population Status

  • According to the 2009 stock assessment queen conch are overfished, but are not subject to overfishing based on 2015 catch data.
  • Queen conch are in year 12 of a 15-year rebuilding plan.

Location

  • Queen conch are found throughout the Caribbean and in the Gulf of Mexico, south Florida, the Bahamas, and Bermuda.

Habitat

  • Queen conch live in large groups in shallow, clear water. This makes them vulnerable to overfishing because they are easy to harvest in large quantities.
  • They prefer seagrass meadows, coral rubble, algal plains, and sandy ocean bottoms.
  • They may move seasonally and as they mature. Juveniles have been known to migrate from shallow-water nursery sites to deeper water as they mature, and adults have been observed moving seasonally from sand plains to hard ocean bottom areas.
  • Macroalgae and sedentary animals can grow on conch shells, providing camouflage for conchs in their various habitats.

Physical Description

  • Queen conch have a large, conical shell that typically ranges in size from 6 to 9 inches, but can reach a maximum size of 12 inches.
  • The shell has blunt spikes and 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.
  • Queen conch have long eye stalks and a large, tube-like mouth (proboscis) that it can pull into its shell if threatened.
  • As older juveniles mature, they develop a large lip on their shell that continues to thicken as the animal ages.

Biology

  • Queen conch can live a long time, up to 30 years.
  • They grow up to 12 inches in length and can weigh up to 5 pounds.
  • They are able to reproduce when they reach 3 to 4 years old, when they develop their flared lip.
  • Queen conch spawns from spring through the summer, in shallower water areas with clean coral sand. Both males and females mate with multiple individuals, and 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 ocean 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. 

Research

Last updated: 12/13/2018