Tasty, easy to catch, and beautifully packaged — the Queen Conch (pronounced CONK) is a commercial angler’s dream. Every part is sold: meat is exported to the United States and shells are bought as souvenirs by tourists. An easy way to make money — yes — but it’s disappearing. Smaller conchs are being sold and anglers are being forced to go farther afield to make a profit.
It takes three to five years for this sea snail to grow from larva to market size. It also takes about that long for planktonic conch larvae, carried into fished-out areas by the currents, to replenish themselves. What’s worse, the conch is easy to catch — large (up to 39 cm/15.4 in) and heavy (about three kg/6.6 lbs), the mollusk moves slowly and lives in shallow, crystalline water where it’s easy to spot.
Biologists are working with various governments to impose restrictions on the fishing of Queen Conch, including closed seasons, minimum size, limits on the total numbers taken, and banning export.
Along with these proposed legal restrictions, science is lending a hand. Several mariculture centers, including one in Puerto Morelos , are experimenting with the Queen Conch. Raised in a protected environment, these creatures are released when they’re large enough to survive in the wild. Unfortunately, this isn’t always successful. One in 10 survives, as conch have to contend not only with humans but also with its other predators: lobsters, crabs, sharks, turtles, and rays.
The Queen Conch is not on the endangered species list yet but, by curbing our consumption — refusing to order it or to eat at establishments that serve it — we can help to save this creature.