A 60-year-old man was taken into custody Friday after Department of Environment officers said he was caught with 94 conch along a section of Old Prospect Road.
DoE Marine Enforcement Supervisor Ronnie Dougall said the man had taken the conch out of their shells and threaded them through a fishing line which he had tied to the belt loop of his pants. Mr. Dougall said this method allowed the suspect to conceal the conch under the water while he was swimming in the sea searching for more.
‘It looked like he wasn’t bringing anything out of the water, but he was dragging those behind him,’ Mr. Dougall said. ‘He had the chip and hammer and everything on him.’
Two DoE officers on patrol Friday afternoon said they spotted the man ‘acting suspiciously’ in the water near the monument in Prospect.
‘Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where they (illegal conch fishers) go’ Mr. Dougall said.
It is only permitted to gather conch during conch season between 1 November and 30 April in the Cayman Islands. The Marine Conservation Law (2007 Revision) makes it an offence for someone to take more than five conch from the water in any one day.
Also, in Friday’s incident the conch was taken from a designated replenishment zone, according to DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie. So, even in the proper season conch could not legally be taken from that area.
‘It’s really an area that’s intended to be set aside for…a replenishment of conch and lobster primarily,’ Ms Ebanks-Petrie said. ‘The replenishment zone there (in the South Sound) has been in place since 1986.’
Royal Cayman Islands Police were called to the scene Friday after Mr. Dougall said DoE officers found drug paraphernalia in the man’s pocket. It was unclear at press time whether the suspect would face drug charges, but police said they were looking into the matter.
Mr. Dougall said he believed the man was planning to sell the conch to ‘anybody who’d buy them.’
‘It’s not like the guy is going out and getting these to feed his family,’ he said. ‘Conch is a delicacy here. We have heard some reports that restaurants buy these, or food vendors. We’re working on getting them as well. It’s just a matter of time before we’re knocking on their door.’
‘Most of the old-timers, even the young people, they respect (the law). They all understand what it’s for.’
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said instances involving large numbers of conch being taken from Cayman’s waters are becoming rarer these days. However, she said there are more people living on island now, and demand for conch is great.
The creation of a conch season and limiting the number of conch that can be taken from the water each day are relatively new measures, and Ms Ebanks-Petrie said it’s too early to tell whether they’re having a major effect on preserving that particular form of marine life.
‘We’re certainly not seeing any huge upward trends,’ she said. ‘When we look at 1988 to present, the actual trend lines are down — or they’re showing a little bit of levelling off in the last couple of years.’
She also noted that the offspring of adult conch that reproduce in Caymanian waters don’t necessarily stay in this area. The island does depend to some degree on upstream migration of conch, she said.