After evaluating WildEarth Guardians’ request to list the queen conch on the Endangered Species List, the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declined to do so.
“Over the past 20 years the amount of conch has remained stable,” NOAA Fisheries biologist Bob Hoffman said Tuesday.
The report from NOAA Fisheries indicates that the queen conch is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, nor is it not likely to become so within the foreseeable future.
However, it’s not doing well in every location. Another NOAA Fisheries biologist, Calusa Horn, said that in some areas queen conch is doing fine and, in other areas, that’s not the case. The NOAA team couldn’t indicate which areas had declining populations.
Taylor Jones, the endangered species advocate at WildEarth Guardians, said that 60 percent of the queen conch’s range is under the density required to successfully reproduce.
“It’s the walking dead. The population still exists but it’s not going to replace itself,” Jones said.
The NOAA Fisheries report indicates the accuracy of the density estimates are uncertain.
Hoffman said that St. Croix fishermen take 22 metric tons of queen conch a year out of federal waters. Data for catches in local waters was not available because of the Election Day holiday.
WildEarth Guardians requested the listing on Feb. 27, 2012. Hoffman said, “We thought there was a possibility it could be listed.”
The petition from WildEarth Guardians also requested that critical habitat be designated for this species concurrent with listing under the ESA. The petition stated that overfishing is the greatest threat to queen conch and is the principal cause of population declines.
It also argued that the existing regulations are ineffective and unable to prevent the unsustainable and illegal harvest of queen conch. WildEarth Guardians claimed that biological characteristics such slow growth, late maturation, limited mobility, occurrence in shallow waters and tendency to aggregate render the species particularly vulnerable to overharvest.
Jones said that it is possible to take NOAA Fisheries to court over its decision not to list queen conch on the Endangered Species List, but no decision had been made.
The geographic distribution of queen conch ranges from Bermuda to the north, Panama to the south, Barbados to the east, and the Gulf Coast of Mexico to the west. It is found across the Virgin Islands.