The Keys a conch-free republic? Not on Diaz’ or Raschein’s watch

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The Local and Federal Affairs Subcommittee has approved a memorial urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to not place the Queen Conch on the threatened or endangered list — a move which would eliminate the ability for restaurants to offer the dish, not to mention undermine the Keys’ mollusky moniker and perhaps its tourism appeal as well.

Queen conch is a protected species and cannot be harvested in Florida or adjacent federal waters, however if it were added to the Endangered Species Act, restaurants would likewise be prohibited from importing queen conchs in.

Proponents of listing queen conch claim their habitat is affected by a range of threats  including water pollution and degradation of seagrass beds; that queen conchs are over-utilized commercially; and that existing regulatory mechanisms are inadequate.

Inclusion on the ESA is decided based on scientific and commercial data, not economic impacts. Nevertheless, HM 1253 — sponsored by Jose Felix Diaz and Holly Raschein — noted the economic impact that such a listing might have on South Florida and the Keys in terms of tourism, where conch fritters and conch chowder attract tourists.

Opponents further point out that queen conch can be grown in aquaculture programs, and that Caribbean countries including Jamaica and the British West Indies have well-managed queen conch fisheries.

Conch free menus, they infer, would be as empty as … a shell.