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Fisheries Department holds regional workshop

Dishes made from Queen Conch such as conch soup, conch fritters and conch ceviche are high in demand by locals and tourists alike. However, the amount of conch meat that is available for a particular season depends upon the quota that is set.  The Belize Fisheries Department, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization held a 3-day workshop which focused on determining the conch quota for each season.  Love news spoke with Mauro Gongora, Fisheries Officer, who said last season’s quota was over 900,000 pounds.
Mauro Gongora – Fisheries Officer: “The purpose of the workshop was to train Fisheries people from the various countries that participated: six other countries plus Belize on how to conduct an assessment of their Queen Conch populations. The idea is that we would like to increase the regional capacity on how to assess the conch populations. The countries that are able to assess their conch populations on a scientific basis are better equipped to determine their catch quotas so those catch quotas are developed based on fin surveys where conch density is gathered and from there the biomass is estimated. In the case of Belize we do employ the precautionary approach principle to ensure that we don’t overfish our conch and to ensure the sustainability of our conch fishery. The catch quota is dynamic, it is not static and the reason for that is simply because the catch quota is set based on available biomass. The biomass is determined from the fin surveys that are conducted every two years so there will be times when the catch quota is high and in two years it might go down. That is not necessarily a function of fishing efforts but it could also be a function of other factors, for example, if you have a hurricane or a strong tropical storm passing along the coast of Belize. It will affect the recruitment of conch in the fishing areas.”
Love news also spoke with Elizabeth Babcock, Associate Professor at the University of Miami who said that the participating countries are seeking to put forth one standard method for determining the catch quota.
Elizabeth Babcock – Associate Professor, University of Miami: “What we are trying to accomplish with this event is to get people who work on conch surveys together from all the different countries in the Caribbean: Jamaica, the Bahamas, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize and try to standardize our methodologies so we can learn from each other and improve the sustainability of conch fisheries. What we have been talking about this morning is each of the countries has been presenting how they do their surveys so each of the countries have similar methods where trained scientists go out to random locations in the conch fishing grounds and count how many conchs are there. Then they do a mathematical analysis to calculate what the total abundance of conch is in the country and then that is the basis of setting catch quotas and other management measures. What we are doing now is we are going through all the different countries and discussing how each of them do those surveys and how they do the calculations so we are trying to standardize the way that is done.”
Representative from Honduras, Nicaragua, Columbia, Bahamas, and Jamaica were in Belize to attend the workshop, which was held at the Biltmore Plaza. Conch season is presently closed and will re-open on October 1.