OECS Fisheries Officers Focus on Conch Nursery Feasibility at Study Tour in Puerto Rico

The content originally appeared on: The Barnacle News

Chief fisheries officers from Grenada, Saint Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines attended a short knowledge-sharing activity at the Naguabo Aquaculture Center, Puerto Rico where they gained firsthand insight into the architecture and operations of a queen conch hatchery and nursery. The officials participated in the exercise from April 30 to May 1, 2024, and left with an overview of establishing and managing an aquaculture facility and the tools needed. 

The OECS Commission is currently executing its ten-year Food and Agriculture Systems Transformation (FAST) Strategy, which responds to the call for increased food security, food self-reliance, and agricultural development across Member States. The FAST Strategy articulates two main tracks to focus on transformation techniques and projects in the blue and green economies. 

Additionally, under the OECS Blue Economy Strategy, the OECS Commission is delivering an element of the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund (CBF)’s Caribbean Regional Architecture for Biodiversity (CRAB) Project. This element includes the preliminary assessment of the feasibility of constructing and installing two pilot conch hatchery and nursery facilities on Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia respectively. 

Grenada, Saint Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have some of the most vibrant and profitable conch industries in the OECS and according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, queen conch is “one of the most valuable species in the Caribbean”. However, the species continuously faces overfishing or being fished too young, long before the queen conch’s typical reproductive years, affecting their ability to replenish their populations. Conch hatcheries and nurseries offer secure facilities for young conchs before being released back into the ocean and they provide suitable conditions for reproduction.

Mr. Justin Rennie of Grenada, Mrs. Sarita Williams-Peter of Saint Lucia, Mrs. Jennifer Cruickshank-Howard of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and agriculture technical specialists from the OECS Commission did an educational tour with Professor Megan Davis of Florida Atlantic University. Professor Davis has developed the Conch Hatchery Facility in Naguabo Puerto, Rico in collaboration with Conservation Conciencia, the Naguabo Fishing Association, and the NOAA Fisheries. Professor Davis is presently involved in the development of numerous nursery activities in the Caribbean including in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Curacao.

The group specifically observed breeding and rearing practices used to support the conch population; the tanks/pens where the conchs are reared during their growth; and discussed the environmental conditions critical for conch growth/development. Following the tour, the chief fisheries officers will apply the knowledge gained towards exploring the feasibility of conch hatcheries and nurseries in each Member State.