Protection sought for Mexico’s iconic queen conch
LA PAZ, Mexico– The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a petition calling for the protection of the queen conch under Mexican Standard NOM-059, a federal law that protects species at risk from extinction, like the US Species Act in danger. The large marine snail is in great demand for its meat and its iconic shell, which is used for decoration and jewelry; overfishing and poaching caused its decline in the Mexican Caribbean.
“Under the Mexican Fisheries Agency, queen conch has endured decades of fisheries mismanagement and poaching, and without protection it will not recover,” said Alejandro Olivera, senior scientist at the Center and author of the petition. “The Mexican government should act quickly to protect this iconic snail under NOM059 before it is too late.”
If the species is listed, its management will be transferred from the Mexican fisheries agency, Conapesca, to the national wildlife agency, Semarnat, to develop a management plan.
Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is one of the last fishing grounds in the Mexican Caribbean, where more than 90% of the country’s queen conch production is harvested. Despite the policies of prohibition, minimum harvest size and catch quotas, the pressure from fishing and uncontrolled poaching in recent years have reduced queen conch populations, which are now considered overexploited. The Mexican National Fisheries Map describes the fishery as “deteriorating.”
Due to the decline of the conch throughout its Caribbean range, in 1992 the species was included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), in order to monitor and restrict trade. But since then, Mexico has exported more than 100,000 shells to the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, China, France, Taiwan, Brazil and Germany, among other countries. The United States alone has imported more than 39,000 shells from Mexico in the past 10 years. The US government is currently considering protecting the conch under its Endangered Species Act.
Poaching is a major threat to the conch shell. In Banco Chinchorro, Mexican fishermen have a conch quota of 9 tonnes per year, but according to them, poachers extract more than 50 tonnes. Once queen conch is added to NOM-059, Semarnat will be able to issue measures and regulations to ensure sustainability, including through refuge areas and closures.