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The Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is an agreement to control the exports and imports of species listed in its appendices. Most importers, such as the European Union and United States of America are bound by the agreement. Conch is listed under Appendix II. The most relevant part of the convention for conch is:

"2. The export of any specimen of a species included in Appendix II shall require the prior grant and presentation of an export permit. An export permit shall only be granted when the following conditions have been met:

(a) a Scientific Authority of the State of export has advised that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species; ...", and

"3. ...[Appendix II species exports] should be limited in order to maintain that species throughout its range at a level consistent with its role in the ecosystems in which it occurs and well above the level at which that species might become eligible for inclusion in Appendix I."

Appendix I listed species are banned from international trade. If conch were listed under Appendix I, the export trade in conch would essentially cease.

The central aim of fishery management is to prevent overfishing. The FAO Code of Conduct sets out the principles which need to be applied to achieve this. We can reinterpret CITES convention in the terms of the Code of Conduct. While the Code covers considerably more issues than CITES, CITES requirements fall well within its scope. In fact, perhaps the most important aim of good fisheries management is to maintain the abundance of the stock above the state where it would be considered depleted or have a negative impact on the ecosystem. This should be, as a minimum, above the endangered state where the species would be moved from Appendix II to Appendix I. Ideally, good management of queen conch fisheries across the region, and in accordance with the Code of Conduct, should result in the restoration of the stocks to a state where queen conch no longer meets the criteria for listing on Appendix II and could be delisted. So, if we apply good management as defined under the Code of Conduct, CITES conditions are met, the productivity of the resource is maintained and, its function in the ecosystem is not impaired.

However, we still need to define "overfished" and "overfishing". The decision to decide that a fishery is overfished needs to be based on more than "expert opinion". It needs to have a sound basis in science, which depends on data collection and research. It is also critical that a fishery can be clearly seen to be not overfished by people not involved in the fishery.


Fish stocks have much in common with other exploited living resources, such as goats. Managing fisheries is like managing a goat herd where you must maintain the herd with its own offspring. If you sell too many female goats[1], you will not be able to produce enough young goats in future years to support the herd’s productivity and eventually you will have to reduce the number sold. Conversely, if you allow the goat population to increase, they will consume all the available grass and forage and will become thinner, produce fewer kids and will be more likely to die from disease until the herd balances out with births and deaths, reaching its "carrying capacity". Usually farmers like to maintain the herd at its optimum size, the size when its productivity is at its maximum, the "maximum sustainable yield". If you replace "goats" with "conch", you have a description of conch fisheries management.

However, there are two important differences between farming and fishing.


Fisheries management, like driving a car, should be a "feedback control system". Driving a car consists of the controls (accelerator, brakes, gears, and steering wheel) and monitoring (the driver’s eyes and ears). When you are driving you are constantly monitoring the progress and position of your car and taking appropriate action by slowing down, speeding up or changing the direction in which the car is moving. Few people drive without moving the steering wheel or with their eyes shut. Fisheries management also needs controls. In the case of queen conch fisheries, controls are usually in the form of effort limits, catch quotas, minimum size and closed areas; and eyes and ears in the form of a monitoring programme.

The monitoring programme should do more than simply report on the state of the fishery. It also needs to measure the effectiveness of controls, to make sure that they are working and help decision-makers ensure that they are implementing the policy correctly.

3.1 Policy

Policies set out the principles on which decisions are made. Most policies usually state that a fishery should be exploited optimally and sustainably. Policies should also state that the precautionary approach be applied in making decisions, if the policy is to be consistent with the Code of Conduct.

It is necessary to interpret "optimal", "sustainable" and "precautionary". This is usually done by agreeing what indicators and reference points will be used. Indicators should be straightforward to calculate, reliable and easy to understand. Reference points may require more sophisticated analysis to define, but should be based on simple, agreed principles. Reference points generally define conditions in the fishery when some management action will be taken.

The "precautionary approach[3]" can be particularly difficult to interpret. Generally, decision-makers should avoid unnecessary risks and irreversible actions, and support research and data collection which will reduce uncertainty.

3.2 Controls

Legislation should allow the means to control the exploitation rate of the resource and various other protective measures which reduce the chance of overfishing. It is best to use a variety of controls and not just depend upon one. Controls should always include some limit on fishing effort, or, at the very least, a limit on fishing capacity.

Fishing effort is the work done by fishers to catch fish (days fishing, amount of gear set etc.). Fishing capacity is the maximum limit on what effort (work) could be applied in the short-term in a particular fishery. For example, capacity could be the number of vessels available for fishing. The limit on effort (i.e. capacity) would be reached if all these vessels fished all the time that they possible could. Effort controls might force days fishing to be reduced below this limit: vessels could be laid up, for example, or limited in how many days of the week they are allowed to fish. However, the capital cost of the vessels (e.g. interest on loans used to purchase the vessels) strongly encourages their maximum use. Therefore trying to maintain effort far below the potential fishing capacity becomes very difficult to enforce and represents a significant cost to both industry and management.

3.3 Data collection

Data will be needed to monitor the fishery. Data must be collected for objective assessment of the state of the fishery and is necessary for rational, informed decision-making. An efficient and effective data collection system will also be necessary to convince outside observers that the fishery is meeting international standards.

Data are best collected from critical monitoring and control points during catching and processing, which will vary from fishery to fishery. Identifying these critical points forms an important part of an effective management system. Critical points can be identified as being "bottle-necks" in the fishery, where costs of monitoring are low and monitoring can be enforced. Such critical points are often at points of landing and export.

Low cost approaches fit the data collection system to the fishing industry practices. For example, it is natural for processors to provide purchase receipts to fishers, and routine data collection can include getting copies of such receipts. Getting copies of such transactions need not be onerous to industry, and accuracy is enforced by the businesses involved.

There are four types of monitoring data which can be collected, in order of importance:

3.4 Data analysis

Raw data need to be interpreted using models of the fishery. Models are just simple versions of how scientists think the fishery behaves and should capture the most important behaviour of the fishery in relation to management decisions. Because models are only approximations of reality, the advice obtained from them needs careful consideration.

The analysis should produce simple indices, which indicate how well the fishery is doing. Appropriate indices include average vessel catch rates, fishing mortality and the spawning stock biomass. These can be used to indicate the economic efficiency of the fishery, whether the fishery is sustainable, and whether the stock is overfished.

3.5 Decision-making

The decision-making authority needs to be defined. That is, the people responsible for the decisions need to be clearly identified. Decisions need to be documented and transparent, so that it is clear how and why particular decisions have been made.

Decision-making must be consistent with CITES and the Code of Conduct. The easiest way to implement these policies is to apply decision rules. Decision rules are management actions which are planned to be applied in response to key changes in indicators. For example, a simple decision rule could be a 20 percent reduction in quota when catch rates fall below some critical level. The difference between decision rules and any other sort of decision-making is that the rules are planned in advance. They should be simple and transparent, so that their implications to the fishing industry can be discussed before they have to be applied.

3.6 Enforcement and compliance

While decisions can be made easily, ensuring they are carried out can be difficult. Enforcement usually consists of direct methods and auditing methods. Direct methods include patrolling by enforcement vessels and spot checks at landing points by fisheries officers. These methods can be expensive, but at least some direct policing at landing sites is recommended. A complementary method creates audit trails, by using documentation and comparing information obtained at different points during the catch to export process. This is a powerful method to enforce rules and regulations set by decision-makers, and audit-like documentation is increasingly required for international export by many countries and international organisations, like CITES.

Enforcing unpopular decisions can be expensive or impossible. Improving the effectiveness of decision-making requires two actions:

a) consultation with stakeholders and participation in decision-making makes decisions better as the concerns of stakeholders are taken into account. Also, if stakeholders understand the problems, they may be more ready to accept decisions that result in short-term hardship in exchange for long-term sustainable benefits. Co-management is a term implying fisher (and others) participation in management and encourages much of the decision-making to be devolved to the fishers themselves;

b) enforcement is always necessary. Once a few fishers get away with ignoring controls, other law-abiding fishers will see less reason for themselves to follow regulations and controls, and management can break down. Similarly, poaching undermines the management process unless it can be suppressed by enforcement activities.

CITES has proved useful in helping countries enforce decisions. However, this is a two-way process, and in return managers have to accept "interference" in policy by stakeholders and the requirement for transparency in decision-making. One complaint against CITES has been the lack of involvement of stakeholders in making CITES policy. CITES is perceived by some as having been thrust upon many Caribbean countries which may make enforcement in some cases more difficult.

3.7 Feedback and review

It is important that decision-making undergoes some sort of feedback, whereby the process can make improvements, adapt to new situations and learn from its mistakes. Feedback should not be obtained only from the management authority, government officials and the like, but should include industry and other stakeholders. Reacting to their concerns and including them in the management process should improve management, making it more cost effective and better enforced.

Independent reviews, particularly of the technical parts of the decision-making process (i.e. the science), will add significantly to the credibility of the decisions. It is rarely possible for international institutions to study a fisheries management system in depth. Confidence in the management system can come from independent experts who do have the time and local knowledge to study decisions and satisfy themselves, perhaps through discussion with decision-makers, that the process has met international standards. Local, independent scientists, for example, might be easily recruited from the region’s academic institutions.


The following general examples follow implementation of some of the ideas in the manual in two fisheries. These examples have been simplified to illustrate the approach. The reality of day-to-day management needs to consider many details of administration not covered here.

One of the aims of these examples is to demonstrate that good management need not be expensive or complex. Fairly simple procedures may be applied and provide adequate management for small scale fisheries, as long as they are well adapted to local conditions.

4.1 Turks and Caicos Islands

4.1.1 Background

Most fishing occurs on the Caicos Bank, a 6 140 km2 area of shallow sand, seagrass, algae and reef habitat suitable for conch. There are approximately 600 registered fishers and 200 vessels exploiting conch, landing around 450 pounds whole meat each fishing day. Vessels are three metres in length and have outboard engines. They depart in the morning and return mid to late afternoon, usually landing at one of the five main processing plants that purchase the conch. Shells are removed and discarded at sea. Conch are cleaned, frozen and packed for export mainly to the United States. Recent quotas for the total landed meat weight were 1 675 million pounds falling to 1.4 million pounds because of concerns over the state of the stock.

4.2 Policy

The Policy is bound by CITES requirements, and the stock is managed so as not to impair the ability of the conch population to replenish itself. This in practice means maintaining the population above 50 percent of its unexploited size. When the population is at 50 percent of its unexploited size, it is presumed to be at the point of maximum sustainable yield. Once below this point, the stock is considered overfished.

4.3 Controls

The fishery is primarily controlled through licensing and an export quota, which is calculated based on a target TAC[4]. There is also a small area closed to fishing, a closed season to spread the catches more evenly through the year, and fishers are not allowed to use breathing apparatus, but must free dive.

The export TAC was set up largely as a result of CITES requirements. The export TAC is controlled both locally and internationally through customs. Most exports go through Miami, USA, where they must be accompanied by a CITES form issued by the Turks and Caicos Government, which indicates the part of the TAC which the export constitutes. Quotas, as parts of the TAC, are allocated to processors.

The number of licences is limited, but is not controlled by management. While any Turks islander can get a licence, the number of eligible people in the population is small, making the number of full-time licence fishers limited. The processing sector is similarly licensed, although they do not only process conch; they also buy lobster and finfish from fishers.

4.4 Data collection

Data collection for monitoring purposes relies mainly on the processing industry. Every processor must complete forms indicating the daily landings from each vessel. At the end of each month the processor sends the completed form to the fisheries department where the data are entered on to a computer.

The data reported by industry are used to calculate the total landed catch, by adding up all the reported daily landings, and the total effort, by counting all the landings that have been made. Each landing reported for a boat represents a day’s fishing for a boat, the fishing effort. The Turks and Caicos Islands is unique in that it has a very long time series of data which can be used to help interpret how the resource responds to different levels of fishing.

4.5 Data analysis

A standard fishery model is used to interpret the catch and effort data. By analysing past behaviour of the fishery, it is possible to estimate the abundance of conch relative to the unexploited stock size and estimate the current productivity of the stock. It is necessary to know both to set an appropriate quota.

4.6 Decision-making

Ultimate authority and therefore decisions, rest with the Minister for fisheries. However, the Minister takes advice from a scientific committee and decisions going against this advice would have to be justified.

The Scientific Committee assesses evidence based on a stock assessment. The stock assessment mainly assesses the impact of management actions on the catch rate of fishers. Setting a reduced TAC should lead to an increase in queen conch and therefore an increase in the average catch taken on a vessel fishing day. Conversely, higher TACs will decrease the abundance of conch and therefore the catch taken on a day’s fishing. The limit reference point, the level that management aims to maintain the catch rate above, is around 450 pounds per day, as this is estimated to be the maximum sustainable yield point. In addition, the scientific committee needs to apply the precautionary approach, so higher catch rates are preferable.

4.7 Enforcement and compliance

Although the TAC is set based on landings, the landings are controlled through export quotas allocated to each processor and not enforced directly. The yield from processing is 40 percent of the TAC. Once the export quotas are met by processors, the fishery is closed and no further landings undertaken. Stockpiling conch for the following season was a problem, but has been discouraged and is not permitted.

Other controls are enforced directly by fishery department patrols. In particular, poaching vessels from other states have been caught and prosecuted. However the information required to catch such poachers has usually been based on information from fishers or police surveillance. Regular fishery patrols have proved difficult and costly to maintain.

4.8 Feedback and review

There is no formal review process for the assessments. However, the Scientific Committee is made up of local experts as well as government scientists, so that the advice is independent. Local scientists also take part in regional fisheries workshops where informal reviews can also take place.


5.1 Background

The Jamaica conch fishery operates mainly on the Pedro Bank south of Jamaica. Legal landings have recently been in the region of 1 000-1 500 metric tonnes. Vessels are large mother boats each having several catching vessels. The mother vessels work on the Pedro Bank for trips of several weeks. Conch is partially processed and frozen at sea. Divers use both SCUBA and hookah gear due to the water depth.

5.2 Policy

The aim has been to move the fishery from unsustainable to sustainable exploitation. In early years of the fishery, landings were very high and uncontrolled. Rather than change the quota immediately to the lower long term level, a step-wise quota reduction was agreed with industry to give them time to adjust their capacity and fishing activities.

The second main concern has been to look at ways to reduce poaching. Illegal fishing is seen as a significant problem. All illegal catches are removed from the total quota, which is based on the biological productivity of the stock, before the remainder can be allocated to the legal fishery. Clearly there is a direct significant advantage to the legal fishery in reducing illegal fishing.

5.3 Controls

The fishery is primarily controlled through licensing and an export quota. The export quota is set by the government Department. Fishers are allowed to use breathing apparatus as the exploited area is in relatively deep water. The number of licences issued and the vessel quota allocation is agreed with the processors, who own the vessels. There is a closed season for conch (1 August-30 October) when all catch and trade in conch is prohibited (including importation).

Control over the quota has been helped by the monitoring which is necessary for the sanitary standards required for export to Europe and the United States (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point). Combining monitoring systems has helped implement the conch quota efficiently.

Licence allocation is conditional upon meeting various requirements. These are clearly printed on the back of the licence. The conditions are designed to make monitoring and enforcement much easier. Adding them explicitly to the issued licence document ensures fishers are fully aware of their obligations.

The main concern has been with poaching. While direct enforcement, through patrol vessels for example, has not been undertaken due to high costs, Jamaica has been able to use the control through trade (i.e. CITES) to apply pressure to reduce illegal fishing.

5.4 Data collection

The stock has been monitored primarily through biomass surveys. These surveys have been conducted by divers swimming fixed distances over the Pedro Bank counting and measuring conch. By conducting a large number of such transects, the total biomass of conch can be estimated.

There has been a lack of support of the conch data collection programme by vessel operators. This has prevented developing a catch and effort based programme as used in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Industry has made a significant financial contribution to the conch surveys, however.

5.5 Data analysis

The survey data has been used in three ways.

a) The biomass can be monitored directly. Decreases in quota (or illegal fishing) should produce higher estimates of biomass. Conversely increases in quota should decrease the biomass.

b) A model has been applied to interpret the survey data and estimate the maximum sustainable yield. This sets the maximum quota that could be allocated. Applying the precautionary approach, and allowing for illegal fishing, has meant that the quota is set below this figure.

c) Another way to assess the state of the stock has been to compare two survey areas, one fished at the current average rate and the other not fished (because it is inaccessible or protected). The assumption is that the areas not fished have the same density of conch as the whole area would if unexploited. This assumption needs careful review, but nevertheless such comparisons can give general indications as to the state of the stock.

5.6 Decision-making

The quota has been arranged between Government and industry and is based on scientific advice. Ultimate authority rests with the Minister for Fisheries, although decisions have been made on the advice of the Fisheries Division. The quota is allocated to the different parts of industry through a committee. Industry takes a significant role in management decisions which encourages industry to abide by them.

5.7 Feedback and review

Jamaica has a CITES scientific committee responsible for reviewing CITES issues in Jamaica, of which conch is one concern. The committee, made up of independent scientists and people from institutions interested in conservation, has reviewed both the science and decision-making, and reports directly to CITES on their findings. The reviews have included interviews with government staff.


The following is a simple checklist of the issues that should be considered when managing a conch fishery (see also Appendix I: Fishery checklist). You can check in a particular fishery how well it addresses each criterion. This will help decide what actions might need to be taken to strengthen fishery management. These issues should be covered in the management plan



The fishery is clearly defined

The fishery and management unit need to be clearly identified. A conch stock as a management unit should be defined relatively easily using depth contours. Adult stocks are not thought to migrate through deep water.

The fishery includes fleets, gear and estimated or "best guess" illegal, unregulated and unrecorded fishing (i.e. poaching).

An effective monitoring system is in place

Reliable monitoring indices should be available. Monitoring should include indicators and reference points/decision rules for:

- quantity of conch remaining: Biomass and/or spawning stock index;
- quantity of conch being caught: Fishing mortality;
- economic: Revenue, costs and profits from fishing.

The effects on the ecosystem have been considered

The stock needs to be maintained at a level where it will not adversely affect the ecosystem. There is very little information available to decide what level this should be. Usual definitions of overfishing have to suffice.

Other ecosystem effects could include indirect damage to habitat and environment by the fishery, although they are likely to be minor. Habitat damage from gears, discarded shells and disposal of conch processing waste are the main potential problems that need to be considered.

Uncertainty has been characterized

Uncertainty needs to be taken into account in decision-making. Decision-makers need to apply the precautionary approach. They need to consider possible bad-outcomes from their decisions; whether decisions are reversible should they prove inappropriate and so on.

The only effective way to reduce uncertainty is through an active research program, which includes routine data collection as well as appropriate research projects.

A harvest strategy and decision rules exist

Decision rules refer to specific plans of what to do when the state of the resource and fishery change. Based on the monitoring program, it should be possible to decide when the fishery changes from a normal to overfished state. Management’s focus should reflect the state the fishery is in:

Normal Phase:

- the capacity limit and how it will be monitored and adjusted from time to time;

- how selectivity might be adjusted to improve yields and protect the spawning stock.

Rebuilding Phase:

- how a temporary reduction in fishing mortality will be achieved;

- for how long it will be necessary to maintain the reduction in catches;

- whether and how compensation may be given to fishers and/or the industry.

Independent reviews are undertaken

The stock assessment and management system should meet acceptable international standards and independent reviews should ensure this is the case.

An adequate legal basis exists

The legal structure should provide for monitoring, control and enforcement. Laws implementing policy not only exist but are being applied. There also needs to be a method to resolve conflicts and disputes.

There is an effective management system

Clear lines of responsibility exist from political levels which define policy down to technical and enforcement levels where day-to-day management is undertaken.

The management structure must be documented in the management plan. Such documentation improves the transparency of the system and allows external review. Co-management is desirable, where stakeholders are actively involved in decision-making and management.

Co-management generally improves the effectiveness of management actions.

[1] One male goat can fertilize many females. It is the number of females which control the herd's productivity and growth.
[2] Also known as the tragedy of the commons: co-management and individual transferable quotas are fisheries management techniques that try to recreate a sense of sole ownership of the resource.
[3] For a full discussion, see FAO. Precautionary approach to capture fisheries and species introductions. Elaborated by the Technical Consultation on the Precautionary Approach to Capture Fisheries (Including Species Introductions). Lysekil, Sweden, 6-13 June 1995. FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries. No. 2. FAO. Rome. 1996. 54p.
[4] TAC: Total allowable catch

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