The countries aim to protect the iconic Queen Conch, build a sustainable ocean economy and provide tangible benefits to people working in the region’s seafood value chains.
© Shutterstock/Ethan Daniel | A Queen Conch sits on a bed of seagrass in the Caribbean Sea.
The eastern Caribbean island nations of Grenada, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have committed to a regional Blue BioTrade action plan to sustainably harvest and market queen conch.
The large sea snail is one of the Caribbean’s most iconic and valuable fishery resources, generating significant export revenue for Eastern Caribbean countries.
The global market for queen conch, estimated at over $74 million, grows every year, making the species a growing victim of illegal fishing and overfishing. It is also increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including rising water temperatures in the Caribbean Sea.
“Blue BioTrade is an approach to trade marine biodiversity products or services in a way that respects people, nature and legal frameworks,” said David Vivas, UNCTAD legal officer working on ocean economics issues. .
Applying BioTrade Principles to Marine Conservation
The plan applies UNCTAD’s seven BioTrade principles to the conservation of marine resources.
It was adopted at a regional workshop organized on May 26-27 by UNCTAD, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. (CITES).
The workshop, funded by the European Commission, brought together fishermen, conch processors and distributors, NGO representatives, government officials from fisheries departments and policy advisers from the UN and OECS.
“Our maritime space is nearly 85 times larger than our collective landmass,” said Didacus Jules, Director General of the OECS.
It is an indicator of the huge potential of the ocean economy, which requires a sustainable approach to climate change, Mr Jules said.
Protect the beloved sea snail
Under this plan, the three countries will conduct stock assessments to understand the health of Queen Conch in the Caribbean and establish a nursery to replenish wild populations of the species.
Based on stock assessments, they will consider quotas and closed seasons to preserve the beloved sea snail.
They will also create an export task force to facilitate access to high-value markets, such as Martinique and other French Caribbean islands, and to ensure that fishermen receive a fair share of the value of queen conch.
Countries will train fishermen to scuba dive and offer them better insurance schemes to reduce the health risks associated with deep-sea diving.
The OECS and its Member States will remain in constant contact with CITES to overcome any existing trade suspensions.
Karen Gaynor, chief scientist at CITES, said trade suspensions are a last resort and the organization’s aim is to ensure trade is “legal, sustainable and traceable”.
The plan will be co-managed by fishers and other stakeholders. Local fishers will be registered and prioritized in a permit system to ensure their continued access to their livelihoods.
The Milestone Project
The workshop was a key outcome of the first phase of a regional project launched in October 2020.
The project has identified recommendations for policy makers, investors and exporters to reap the benefits of sustainable queen conch trade.
The three beneficiary countries validated the recommendations and undertook to implement them in a coherent manner, specifying their priorities.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, host country, highlighted the importance of obtaining facilities certified for food safety in order to increase the value generated from queen conch.
Saint Lucia highlighted the need for scuba diving training for its fishermen to reduce the health risks associated with deep-sea diving.
Grenada has focused on measures to lift CITES trade suspensions, which currently block its queen conch exports. He prioritized the completion of a stock assessment, followed by legal reforms. The country avoided a potential further suspension of trade thanks to its recent submission of a legislative reform plan to implement CITES.
Regional and sectoral expansion
The second phase of the project will focus on the implementation of the regional plan in the three countries.
UNCTAD, in collaboration with the International Trade Centre, will provide a free self-assessment tool to help countries and companies assess and meet sustainable trade standards specific to marine food sectors.
The project will expand to benefit other OECS Member States and apply Blue BioTrade principles to new species, such as Sargassum and Sea Moss by-products.