More than 100 dumped conch shells uncovered in a vacant lot in South Sound provide evidence that poaching remains a serious concern, say environmental enforcement officers.
Environmental Health officers were called to remove the shells, which were covered with ants and had apparently been dumped by poachers after harvesting the meat for sale.
Mark Orr, chief enforcement officer for DoE, said the quantity of shells in the haul was worrying, as a catch of that size would cause lasting damage to conch populations.
“Five years ago, it was rare to see anyone with 100 conch, now it is the new average. We have had quite a bit of poaching this year. I’ve encountered three cases myself, involving more than 100 conch taken this year.”
It is common for poachers to keep the shells, sometimes laying them out on open land for the ants to “clean out” the remaining meat, before power washing them for sale to tourists.
That was not the case in the conchs found in South Sound, said Mr. Orr, adding that the haphazard manner in which the shells had been dumped suggested someone had simply wanted to get rid of the evidence quickly.
Enforcement officers monitored closed-circuit television footage from a nearby gas station, but were unable to uncover evidence identifying the culprits.
Between May 1 and Oct. 31, taking conch from the ocean floor is banned completely. In season, between Nov. 1 and April 31, the limit is five per person or 10 per day, whichever is fewer.
Conch take around five years to grow to maturity, meaning a large scale poaching incident has a long-term impact, said Mr. Orr.
The latest Department of Environment survey showed a sharp decline in conch numbers, which officers attributed to a rise in poaching.
They fear that too much poaching could drastically reduce the amount available to legal fishermen and affect the long-term viability of conch as a food source in the Cayman Islands.
John Bothwell, a senior research officer with the DoE, told the Compass in July, “Poaching is stealing from the community. If too much poaching occurs, it means less legal conch for the rest of us.”
Anyone who sees evidence of poaching in progress can call 911, or anyone with information about poaching can call Mark Orr at 916-4271.