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Sustaining queen conch fisheries and livelihoods in the Turks and Caicos Islands

Queen conch (Strombus gigas) supports a fishery of economic and cultural importance to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) but is thought to be in decline. It has become apparent that the fishery is facing increased pressures from sustained fishing practices, driven by local demand and international markets.

Led by TCI governmental departments and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), in partnership with Marine Conservation Society (MCS), this EU-funded project 'Sustaining queen conch fisheries and livelihoods in the Turks and Caicos Islands' aims to support programmes of work in relation to sustainably managing TCI’s queen conch fisheries, and address CITES requirements for sustainable international trade in this CITES Appendix II listed species.

This 20 month project is urgently needed to better understand the status of the queen conch population in TCI and inform future management decisions by: completing new conch abundance surveys; assessing domestic and tourist consumption; capacity building within TCI government departments; and producing a CITES non-detriment finding (NDF) to determine sustainable trade levels.

Ultimately, the aim is to secure livelihoods and maintain a steady source of income for TCI by safeguarding this valuable component of the marine environment.


The conch fishery is the second most important commercial fishery in TCI, supporting a large export trade ( more than $3.5 million USD per year) as well as a domestic market. However, it is thought that the queen conch fishery, which previously provided a reliable and plentiful food resource, could be in decline due to increased pressures driven by local demand and international markets.

Sustainable exploitation of queen conch fisheries presents a broad range of challenges, including the complex biology of the species; vulnerability to stochastic events; uncertainty of catch and effort data; illegal trade; weak surveillance and enforcement mechanisms and unsustainable fishing practices.

The sustainability of the fishery is threatened by the absence of a comprehensive stock assessment for the species. The extent of offtake through domestic and tourist consumption and under-reporting makes it impossible for managers to optimize fisheries production in a sustainable manner, which has caused economic losses to the sector. Addressing these data gaps is essential to provide new information which can be utilised to mitigate the risk of over-harvesting queen conch.

Furthermore, as TCI has CITES extended to it, it is also necessary to fill these knowledge gaps on population abundance and consumption levels to underpin a non-detriment finding (NDF – an assessment of sustainability) for this CITES Appendix II listed species, ensuring that future international trade is at sustainable levels and meets the requirements of the Convention. CITES is a complex agreement and capacity building is required to enable the TCI government to meet their obligations under CITES.

This project will provide TCI with the ability to assure a future not only for queen conch and the livelihoods which depend upon it, but also contribute to wider regional management efforts underway in the Caribbean for the species.


Overall aim

To promote sustainable utilization of queen conch, while preserving the environment and enhancing the social and economic livelihood of local people.


Project timeline

  • May 2022 – May 2023: Underwater visual surveys to determine queen conch population status on TCI.
  • July 2022 - February 2023: Domestic consumption surveys including interviews with key stakeholders on the nature and extent of conch harvest for local consumption.
  • July 2023: Survey of businesses involved in queen conch trade.
  • September – October 2023: Delivery of training for TCI government and statutory agency staff on the implementation of CITES.
  • November – December 2023: Recommendations to support the recovery of the queen conch fishery: ensuring future sustainability.
  • November– December 2023: Completion of CITES non-detriment finding (NDF, an assessment of sustainability) for export of queen conch using the gathered information.


Work packages/objectives

Objective 1: Study to compare underwater visual survey (UVS) methodologies

Working with TCI government, two methods of UVS for queen conch will be compared in a short study: the video camera tow method (a peer-reviewed methodology used previously in Saint Eustatius and Anguilla, for which training will be provided to TCI government staff by a technical expert) and the underwater drone method.

Costs, reliability, habitat impacts, and ease of use will all be assessed, and the results of this method comparison study will inform subsequent survey work.

Two photos. The top photo is of a camera array on a boat (image courtesy of R. Austin). The bottom image is of an underwater drone on the seabed (image courtesy of J. van Rijn).

Objective 2: Estimate queen conch abundance on Caicos Bank ready for integration with other scientific data required to determine the queen conch population status in TCI

Photograph of people on a boat looking at a screen. Image courtesy of R. Austin

Extensive queen conch abundance surveys will be conducted to determine the population size and characteristics of queen conch on Caicos Bank, using dive surveys and video camera tow (and/or underwater drone, depending on the outcome of objective 1).

Watch our video (available below and through YouTube) to see a towed video array survey of Queen Conch in action. 

This video was produced by the field team at the Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources Management (DFMRM) of the Turks and Caicos Islands, who completed the last of the field surveys associated with the project in May 2023. This was the rounding off of one full year of field work for this project, which commenced in May 2022 with 100 underwater visual (dive) surveys across the Caicos Bank, and concluded with the last 50 deeper-water video tow surveys in Providenciales, reaching a total of 100 video tow surveys conducted throughout the Caicos Bank

Objective 3: Determine estimated levels of unreported local harvest

Design and implementation of a sociological survey to determine harvest levels of queen conch for domestic and tourist consumption across TCI, which are currently unreported and unrecorded.

Conch in baskets

Objective 4: Develop a CITES non-detriment finding (NDF) for queen conch fishery

A complete conch stock assessment, conducted by DECR and based on the data acquired, will inform management recommendations and the development of a non-detriment finding for the export of queen conch. CITES training will be provided for TCI government and statutory agency staff, building capacity for the development of future NDFs for other CITES-listed species and assisting in the pursuit of national product traceability schemes in line with catch certification standard requirements.

Objective 5: Complete a review of CITES implementation in TCI

A critical and expert review of CITES implementation in TCI will identify practical measures to address any capacity building needs. This will include a detailed analysis of current and anticipated trade, including a risk assessment to identify enforcement priorities. Following this needs assessment, in-country training, tailored for relevant officials and stakeholders, will be conducted.

Photograph of a shell on a seabed (image from Shutterstock)


Project partners

  • This project has been developed at the request of, and in partnership with, DECR (Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources) and FMRM (Department of Marine Fisheries and Resource Management) in TCI.
  • Marine Conservation Society (MCS)

Logos of organisations involved in the RESEMBID Queen Conch project.



This project is funded by EU RESEMBID (Resilience, Sustainable Energy and Marine Biodiversity). The programme supports the sustainable human development efforts of the 12 Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs). It is implemented by Expertise France and financed under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) Caribbean OCT Regional Programme.

Series of logos relating to the funders (RESEMBID)


Acronyms and glossary

CITES: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

DECR: Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources

EDF: European Development Fund

FMRM: Department of Marine Fisheries and Resource Management

JNCC: Joint Nature Conservation Committee

MCS: Marine Conservation Society

NDF: Non-detriment finding – a fundamental requirement under CITES; it is a test of sustainability without which international trade should not be permitted.

OCTs: Overseas Countries and Territories

RESEMBID: Resilience, Sustainable Energy and Marine Biodiversity

TCI: Turks and Caicos Islands


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