>> Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I put a desktop picture up I found in our underwater photo archives and it's so cute, I decided to do a post on it. Previously known as Strombus gigas and now Eustrombus gigas, it is commonly known as the Queen Conch (pronounced konk) and is the species I will be talking about today.
Conchs are gastropods and means they are closely related to snails and a little more distantly related to squid as squid are mollusks as well. Here in St. Thomas, they can be found in shallow (less than 10 meters) water with sandy substrate mixed with a lot of Thalassia testudinum also known as turtle grass. Yes, it is called turtle grass for a reason and we will save that for another day. I go conching here (not to harvest, but for research) at Brewers Bay by the university. You can see in the picture provided, this guy is hanging out in sand and grass. For more fun, if you click on it, you will see his eyes poking out. Super cute. Anyway...
Most people that know anything about conch know that they will "attack" you. It's sort of true. You see, conch, like many gastropods, have an operculum. This is simply a covering at the bottom of his foot that seals the shell closed. If you have ever looked at marine snails or whelk, you will have seen this. In the conch it is particularly long and claw like. They will use it at times.
Another feature of their anatomy, and arguably the most dominant, are their spiraled shells. Many people are familiar with conch shell horns and the like. They are quite beautifully pink on the inside and are prized by shell collectors. Conchs also produce pink pearls that are very collected.
Locally, they are prized for their meat. We have conch fritters, conch stew, buttered conch and more. It is quite tender and yummy. However, this beautifully shelled animal is threatened. Illegal harvesting has devastated the population of conch in our waters. They are protected in Florida and in the Virgin Islands are harvested only certain times of year and must be a certain size. "Lip-less" conchs cannot be harvested as they are still juvenile. The rules are as follows:
A quota of 50,000 lbs per year. After the quota is reached, the fishery will remain closed until November 1st of the following year. A limit of 200 conch per boat for licensed commercial fishermen. A limit of 6 Conch per person for recreational fishermen and a total of 24 conch per boat. A closed season from July 1 until October 30. All conch must be landed alive and in the shell. No conchs may be possessed which are less than nine inches in length or less than 3/8 inch lip thickness. Fishermen must report their landings monthly to the Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Also keep in mind that there are times of year to harvest them. If we don't keep track on what we are doing now, we may not have them to enjoy in the future. They are already in serious decline and that is why these regulation are in place here. In Florida, they are considered threatened now and harvesting is prohibited in the majority of US waters. Even if you see an empty shell, try not to remove it as many species of marine hermit crab use these shells as well. I have reported illegal conching and it is quite easy. Remember, in the continental United States, harvesting is illegal. you can contact any natural resources division in your state. If you are in the USVI you can call DPNR at (340) 774-3320 in St. Thomas and (340) 773-1082 in St. Croix.
You can find out more at NOAA and at your local DPNR website.
Book used as reference: