Department of Environment officials said incidents involving conch poaching in Cayman have become less common in recent years, but they also noted individual cases of poaching are becoming more severe.
The comments came this week after DoE enforcement officers said they caught a man with 94 conch he had allegedly taken from the sea near the monument on Old Prospect Road.
‘Certainly incidents like this are becoming less and less frequent,’ said DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie. ‘But unfortunately when we do see incidents it tends to be these big ones.’
Marine Enforcement Supervisor Ronnie Dougall said he believes some of these poachers are seeking to sell their catches to support drug dependencies.
‘It’s very rare that (poaching) happens, unfortunately it’s all to feed the habits they have, you know,’ Mr. Dougall said. ‘It doesn’t matter to them.’
Cayman Islands lawmakers have enacted stricter regulations in recent years, which limit the times of year conch can legally be gathered and the number of conch which can be taken from local waters. Older laws also set aside certain areas as marine replenishment zones, where gathering conch is illegal regardless of the time of year.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said the Cayman conch population has seen a steady downward trend since the late 1980s and she said it’s not clear whether the added wildlife protections are having any affect.
‘That’s a really difficult judgment to make,’ she said. ‘It takes time to see these population trends.’
She said the island’s growing human population may also be a factor.
‘There are more people on the island that are entitled to take their legal limit during the open season.’
The DoE believes the local conch population is not 100 per cent recruiting in every generation. In other words, a protected adult conch does not necessarily produce juveniles that stay in local waters. Ms Ebanks-Petrie said the island is somewhat dependent on migration to maintain its conch population.
She said migration is somewhat less of an issue with conch than it is with lobster, since lobster stay in the larvae stage longer and may travel further.
Mr. Dougall urged people who see someone taking a large number of conch from the waters, or who are gathering conch between 1 May and 31 October to report the matter to authorities immediately.
‘The public’s help is absolutely essential because (the DoE) can’t be everywhere 24-seven,’ he said.