Whelk season opens Saturday, and the conch season follows one month later on Nov. 1.
“Our goal is to have a sustainable yield,” Carlos Farchette said.
Farchette, who retired several years ago from his job with the Planning and Natural Resources Department, is the secretary of the Fisheries Advisory Committee on St. Croix and is chairman of the Caribbean Fishery Management Council.
According to Farchette, after Fish and Wildlife determined that conch was being overfished, in 2008 the closed season was extended by a month. Taking of whelks is prohibited from April 1 through Sept. 30. Taking conch is not allowed from July 1 through Oct. 31, a press release from Planning and Natural Resources indicated.
The conch quota for all three islands stands at 50,000 pounds, Fish and Wildlife Director Roy Pemberton said. The one-month closure extension came about because fishermen were reaching the 50,000-pound quota earlier and earlier in the year, he said.
Farchette said that while a 2010 study by Fish and Wildlife showed improvements in the conch fishery over a 1978 study used when the closure was extended, he said that the extended closure remains in place to protect the species.
“The adult conch in deep water come in the shore to spawn in the months the fishery is closed,” Howard Forbes, a senior officer at Planning’s Environmental Enforcement, Division said.
Fish and Wildlife has guidelines for taking conch. Recreational fishermen can take six per person per day but no more than 24 per boat in boats with multiple fishermen. Commercial fishermen are limited to 200 per day for each registered commercial fishing vessel. Forbes said that was a safety issue to prevent the overloaded boats from sinking.
The conch must have a shell nine inches from end to end or a 3/8-inch lip thickness.
“That’s so it’s mature enough to reproduce,” Forbes said.
Whelks must be 2 -7/16 inches across at the opening. Farchette said plans are in the works to develop bag limits for whelk taking.
Fish and Wildlife provides a gauge so fishermen can make sure what they’re taking meets regulation size. Forbes said they have measurements for conch, whelk and lobster. They’re free and available at Fish and Wildlife offices on both islands.
Farchette also said that fishermen must bring their catches ashore in the shells and not dispose of the shells on beaches because people can cut themselves on shells left behind.
When conch and whelk season is closed, if they were caught elsewhere, it is legal to sell them, the press releases indicates. Additionally, fishermen have seven days after the season closes to sell their conch or whelk taken during the open season.
For more information, contact Fish and Wildlife at 774-3320 on St. Thomas or 773-5774 on St. Croix.