The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Peter Hart,

Protection Sought for Mexico's Iconic Queen Conch

United States imported more than 39,000 Mexican conch shells in 10 years.


The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today seeking protection for the queen conch under Mexico's Standard NOM-059, a federal law that protects at-risk species from extinction, like the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The large, marine snail is heavily in demand for its meat and iconic shell, which is used for decor and jewelry; overfishing and poaching have caused its decline in the Mexican Caribbean.

"Under Mexico's fisheries agency, the queen conch has suffered decades of bad fishery management and poaching, and without protection, it won't recover," said Alejandro Olivera, a senior scientist with the Center and the author of the petition. "The Mexican government should act quickly to protection this iconic snail under NOM059 before it's too late."

If the species is listed, its management will transfer from Mexico's fisheries agency, Conapesca, to the nation's wildlife protection agency, Semarnat, to develop a management plan.

The Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula is one of the last remaining fishing areas in the Mexican Caribbean, where more than 90% of the country's queen conch production is harvested. Despite policies involving bans, minimum harvest size and catch quotas, fishing pressure and uncontrolled poaching in recent years have decreased queen conch populations, which are now considered overexploited. The Mexican National Fisheries Chart describes the fishery as "in deterioration."

Due to the conch's decline throughout its Caribbean range, in 1992 the species was included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to monitor and limit trade. But since then, Mexico has exported more than 100,000 shells to the United States, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, China, France, Taiwan, Brazil and Germany, among other countries. The United States alone has imported more than 39,000 shells from Mexico in the past 10 years. The U.S. government is currently considering protections for the conch under its Endangered Species Act.

Poaching is major threat to the conch. At Banco Chinchorro, Mexican fishermen have a queen conch quota of 9 tons per year, but according to them, poachers extract more than 50 tons. Once the queen conch is added to NOM-059, Semarnat will be able to issue measures and regulations to ensure sustainability, including through refuge areas and closures.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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