13 April 2023
Scientists, environmental activists, and government officials warn that the Bahamas' conch population is decreasing because of overfishing.
The conch is a kind of marine creature with a shell. It is important to Bahamians' diet and economy.
Tereha Davis's family has fished for conch around the Bahamas for five generations. Davis, who is 49 years old, remembers when she could walk into the water and pick up the marine snails from the seabed.
But in recent years, Davis and conch fishers like her have had to go farther from shore to find conch. Sometimes it is as far as 48 kilometers.
"When I was a child, we never had to go that far to get conch," said Davis, speaking at a Freeport market where she sold her catch. "Without conch, what are we supposed to do?"
The conch is widely recognized as the national dish of the Bahamas. Queen conch is the most important food species and can live for 30 years.
Conch can be very costly in the U.S. and other places. But it is so common in the Bahamas that it can often be found in meals costing less than $10. That is less than the price of many meats on the island. One study from 2021 said nearly two-fifths of the population in rural parts of the Bahamas eats conch weekly.
The country of about 400,000 is home to 9,000 conch fishers - around two percent of the population. A study published in Fisheries Management and Ecology said this number appears to be holding steady even as conches decrease in number.
The meat of the conch is worth millions of dollars per year, and it also helps increase tourism to the islands.
Divers usually catch the conch by hand. They often use simple equipment such as a mask, snorkel and flippers. Sometimes divers can take home as many as 1,000 conches in a single trip.
Many divers fish for other species too, such as snapper, but they identify themselves as conch fishers first. And for many, fishing is both a family tradition and a path to middle class life on the islands, where the cost of living is higher than in the U.S.
Decline of traditional foods
Conch is one example of the threat overfishing presents to traditional foods around the world.
Similar problems are seen in Senegal, where overfishing has taken away white grouper. The fish has long been the basis for the national dish of thieboudienne.
Overfishing has also caused problems in the Philippines, where small fish supplies such as sardines that are used in kinilaw, a raw dish, have decreased.
Overfishing has hurt once numerous species. That means some culturally important foods are disappearing.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has stated that more than a third of the world's fish stocks are overfished. The FAO added that the rate of unsustainable fishing is rising.
The loss of such foods risks the availability of protein and iron in people's diets in poor countries, said Richard Wilk, of Indiana University's Department of Anthropology.
Wilk said nations that fail to control overfishing risk repeating the mistakes of countries such as Japan. The Japanese herring fishery collapsed in the middle of the 20th century.
Wilks said the collapse cost jobs, reduced availability of a traditional wedding food, and left the country dependent on foreign supplies.
I'm John Russell.
Patrick Whitle reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
conch – n. a type of shellfish that lives in a large shell which has the form of a spiral
species –n. a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young
tourism – n. the business of providing hotels, restaurants, entertainment, etc., for people who are traveling
snorkel – n. a special tube that makes it possible to breathe while you are swimming with your head underwater
flippers – n. a flat rubber shoe that has a very wide front and that is used for swimming
unsustainable – adj. not able to last or continue for a long time