Conch can’t be taken
The new Wildlife Interaction Zones were gazetted on 13 March, but it was not until the opening of the conch season at the beginning of this month that the full implications of the regulations have hit home to several tour operators and members of the public.
Some of the best conch beds in the North Sound are now off limits.
‘I had a police boat come up to my vessel and he said I was taking conch in the wrong area. At first I didn’t believe him,’ said Frank Ebanks.
The new zones are not confined to the Sandbar, Stingray City and the Coral Gardens snorkel areas; they extend almost from the main channel heading east down to the sandbar and encompass some of the most popular areas for harvesting the broad leaf conch.
There is also another Wildlife Interaction Zone in the vicinity of deep Stingray City and again, a decent conch bed to the north of the Standards Reef, is now in a protected zone.
‘The tourists really used to enjoy picking up a few conchs during the season and having it marinated for them, but I don’t think that will happen anymore. If you want to get a conch now, you probably have to go in south of the main Channel and it is usually too rough there. I think this law will put an end to it,’ said Gleason Ebanks.
Assistant Director of Department of Environment Scott Slaybaugh said, ‘It was understandable that members of the public were not aware of the extent of the new zones because marker buoys have not been put down yet.’
He expects the department will have the markers in place within the next couple of months.
Watersports operator Dave Ebanks is concerned that the restrictions are going too far.
‘People are going to start breaking down people’s doors if they can’t get a little seafood to eat or sell. We have Caymanians who can’t read or write, who will never get a high paying office job and there are some who have drug and alcohol problems. At the moment some of these can still go out and catch enough to get by, but if you make it too hard you are going to start to see more problems.’
In an earlier press statement from the Minister of Environment, Charles Clifford justified the zones by saying, ‘Stingray City and the Sandbar are two of our most visited tourism attractions and it is critical that we manage these areas in a way that ensures their viability in the long term.’
Mr. Clifford said before the regulations became law there was an extensive period of public consultation and it was inevitable that there would be some people who disagreed with the regulations.
‘To those individuals I say we only need be reminded of the criticism that was brought to bear many years ago when the Marine Parks were first introduced in this country. Today the people who were perhaps the most vocal critics of the Marine Parks back then will readily admit that had we not taken that stance then, we probably wouldn’t have any conch or lobster to fish today.’
All tourist boats entering the Wildlife Interaction areas are now required to have a license that is valid for three years. The cost of this license, which is issued by the Marine Conservation Board, is $300 for boats less than 50 feet and $600 for boats in excess of 50 feet. While in the zones no vessel may anchor in water shallower than three feet and the anchor must be more than 20 feet away from any reef structure. Fishing and the taking of any marine life is prohibited.