Pair contribute to Caribbean fisheries management

(June 25, 2007) Professor John Hoenig of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has been invited to participate in the third annual Stock Assessment Meeting of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism. CRFM is an international treaty organization dedicated to wise use of fishery resources in the Caribbean.

Hoenig's graduate student Lynn Waterhouse will also attend the July meeting, on the island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, to lay the groundwork for her planned study of queen conch (Strombus gigas). These large marine snails, prized around the world for their edible meat and attractive shell, are declining in abundance throughout much of the Caribbean due to over-fishing and poaching.

Hoenig, who uses statistics, mathematical modeling, and computer simulations to determine appropriate management options for commercial and recreational fisheries, has served as a consultant to CRFM's annual stock assessment meetings since 2005.

He notes that CRFM has shown great interest in developing collaborative ties with VIMS, and vice versa. "We at VIMS are very excited about pursuing joint research efforts and educational opportunities with CRFM members," says Hoenig, who is now working with VIMS Dean and Director John Wells to establish a formal Memorandum of Understanding to encourage and guide a partnership with the organization.

Hoenig adds, "Lynn's study of queen conch provides a great example of the benefits of a research and educational partnership between CRFM and VIMS. Lynn will benefit by working with local experts on a real-life problem in fisheries management, and CRFM members will gain from the expertise we at VIMS have in quantitative assessment of fishery resources."

Queen conchs are particularly vulnerable to over-fishing because of their slow growth, late maturation, and tendency to aggregate in shallow water to spawn. In 1992, based on this vulnerability and documented population declines, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) added the species to their Appendix II, a list of organisms that may be threatened with extinction unless trade is strictly regulated. Queen conch was the first large-scale fisheries product to be regulated by CITES.

An Appendix II CITES listing regulates international trade through a system of permits designed to ensure that trade is legal and will not threaten the species' survival in the wild.

The U.S. currently prohibits import of queen conch (including meat, shells, and live animals) from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago. All harvest in Florida and adjacent Federal waters has been banned since the mid-1980s.

Waterhouse plans to study the queen-conch fishery of the Turks and Caicos Islands, hoping to incorporate economic information into the assessment of fishery options and to document and share the management strategies of this well-managed fishery with other nations in the Caribbean.

This knowledge could help these nations resume trading queen conch with the U.S., which is responsible for 80% of the world's queen-conch consumption. International trade is banned under CITES regulations until targeted nations implement specific long-term conservation measures to sustainably manage queen conch populations in their waters.

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