On the Conch Campaign Trail
On the Conch Campaign Trail
Our campaign team has been working diligently with conch fishermen to keep abreast of issues that are impacting their fishery.
Not a lot is known about conch populations, yet it has become a fast-growing fishery due to high prices paid for conch destined for foreign markets. As a result of these factors and as a precautionary measure, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) decided to implement an increase in the minimum size of conch allowed to be brought to shore.
Cape and Islands fishermen understood the logic, but felt that they could help contribute to information about conch populations so that decisions like this could be made based on fishermen-gathered science in the future. This is key for such a slow-growing species as conch.
Conch Tagging Results
We have been fortunate to collaborate with University of New Hampshire Ph.D. student in zoology, Shelley Edmundson. She has been conducting research and experimentation in conch movement, growth and maturity both in her lab and on board conch boats here on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. With Shelley, fishermen have tagged almost 14,000 conch since 2011.
From conch that she tagged between 2013 and 2014, Shelley found that conch grew at an average rate of 0.43” throughout the year, with some growing as little as 0.14”. Some of the other interesting data she presented:
- A single female conch can lay an egg case string in 14 days.
- One string can contain up to 2,000 conch.
- The cases are “cemented” into the sediment and it takes 8-10 months for conch to hatch out of them.
- And size does matter - larger females make longer strings with more eggs.
To help keep fishermen compliant with the new size limit, the Fishermen’s Alliance worked with Buck Welding & Machine in Chatham to fabricate new measuring gauges based on DMF’s previous design, and then sold them at cost to conch fishermen. These gauges have been a huge hit, as our fishermen work hard to adequately measure their catch and keep their fishery sustainable.
We remind conch fishermen and anyone else that if they see a tagged conch to please keep and freeze them whole ~ and notify the Fishermen’s Alliance. We’ll be happy to collect them to continue Shelley’s important research. Another way to help: if you see a conch egg case on the beach and out of the water - and it seems like it is still wet - take a handy zip tie, connect a rock to the end of the string and toss it back into the water.
Another area where the Fishermen’s Alliance is cooperating with local conch fishermen is in experimenting with alternative bait options and learning from them what works and what doesn’t. Conch bait has traditionally relied extensively on horseshoe crab, and these new experimental baits include clam bellies and other seafood products to help reduce the impact on both the horseshoe crab population and the other animals that rely on them. The goal is to find a perfect combination of ingredients that have lower ecosystem impacts but still ensure fishing success.
We will continue to work with conch fishermen and get their input on how they would like to collaborate with DMF over the next few years to try to help manage their fishery. Currently, DMF uses trawl surveys to conduct conch stock assessments, whereas Cape Cod conch fishermen tend to use pots; this difference in methodology could potentially create bias in population estimates. We look forward to advancing our conch campaign’s goal to help create relationships and procedures that will continue to ensure the health of this fishery.