National Marine Fisheries Service

09/08/2022 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/08/2022 11:29

Request for Comments: Proposed rule to list queen conch as threatened under the Endangered Species Act

Key Message:

Today NOAA Fisheries announced a proposed rule to list the queen conch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After completing a comprehensive status review, taking into account efforts being made to protect the species, we have determined that the queen conch is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout its range. Therefore, we propose to list the queen conch as a threatened species under the ESA. Any protective regulations determined to be necessary and advisable for the conservation of the queen conch under ESA would be proposed in a subsequent Federal Register announcement.

Summary Of Proposed Action:

  • NOAA Fisheries is announcing a proposed rule to list queen conch as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and requesting public comment now though November 7, 2022.
  • The primary threat to the queen conch is overutilization through commercial, recreational and subsistence, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Despite a multitude of fisheries management measures enacted across the species' range, populations are depleted.
  • A threatened listing does not automatically result in take prohibitions and will not automatically impose any restrictions on trade in queen conch. However, we are considering whether protective regulations may be necessary and advisable and whether to apply prohibitions to conserve this species if listed under the ESA. Protective regulations would be issued through a separate rulemaking.

How to Comment On the Proposed Rule:

We intend that any final action resulting from this proposal will be as accurate as possible and informed by the best available scientific and commercial information. The comment period is open now through November 7, 2022.

We seek comments containing: (1) new or updated information regarding queen conch landings and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; (2) new or updated queen conch fisheries-dependent or -independent data including stock assessments; (3) new or updated information on the status of the species, including surveys, density, and abundance information; (4) new or updated information regarding queen conch population structure, age structure, and connectivity; (5) new or updated information on queen conch range, habitat use, and distribution; (6) new or updated on data concerning any threats to the queen conch; (7) efforts being made to protect the species throughout its range; (8) new or updated queen conch fisheries management measures; or (9) other pertinent information regarding the species.

In order to inform our consideration of appropriate protective regulations for the species, we seek information from the public on possible measures for their conservation. While, we are not proposing regulations at this time, but may consider promulgating protective regulations pursuant to section 4(d) for the queen conch in a future rulemaking.

We also seek information on areas in U.S. jurisdiction that may meet the definition of critical habitat for the queen conch as well as potential impacts of designating any particular areas as critical habitat.

You may submit comments by electronic submission or by postal mail. Comments sent by any other method (such as e-mail), to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries.

Formal Federal Register Name/Number: NOAA-NMFS-2019-0141 Electronic Submissions:Submit all electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.govand enter NOAA-NMFS-2019-0141 in the Search box. Click on the "Comment" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. Mail:NMFS, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701;

Instructions:Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, might not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ''N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). You can find the status review report, and Federal Register notices on our Web site at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/queen-conch

For further information contact: Calusa Horn, NMFS Southeast Regional Office, 727-551-5782 or [email protected],or Maggie Miller, NMFS Office of Protected Resources, 301-427-8457 or [email protected]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is NOAA Fisheries proposing to list the queen conch as 'threatened' under the ESA?

  • Following a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals, NOAA Fisheries announced the initiation of a status review and requested scientific and commercial information from the public (December 6, 2019; 84 FR 66885).

How did NOAA Fisheries assess the queen conch population in order to reach a determination of threatened?

  • NOAA Fisheries assembled a status review team of seven experts and conducted a comprehensive review of available information to develop a status review report; this report then underwent independent peer review. Peer reviewer comments are publicly available at: https://www.noaa.gov/organization/information-technology/information-quality-peer-review-id425.
  • Several analyses developed to support the status review are now published in the scientific literature, and the status review reporthas been published as a NOAA Technical Memorandum. These publications all required additional levels of internal and external review.

What type of threats does the queen conch face?

  • The primary threat to the queen conch is overutilization (through commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing, and illegal, unreported, or unregulated fishing) for commercial purposes.
  • The existing regulatory mechanisms are inadequate to control overutilization. There are significant issues with regulatory compliance, efficacy of minimum size regulations to prevent juvenile harvest, limited enforcement of regulations, sparse and inconsistent population monitoring, and substantial poaching.
  • The available information indicates climate change, specifically sea surface temperatures, ocean acidification, and potential changes in circulation patterns, will likely affect the reproduction, growth, and survival of queen conch in the foreseeable future (e.g., by 2100).
  • Density thresholds for successful reproduction and other aspects of the queen conch's life history make it particularly vulnerable to threats.

Why is adult queen conch density so important?

  • Queen conch are slow moving marine snails that require direct contact to reproduce. It is widely recognized within the scientific literature that adult conch density influences mate finding, reproduction, and recruitment. Thus, population density and age structure were important to consider in assessing the species status.
    • Our review found that the majority of the countries (69%) were found to be below the minimum adult density threshold required to support mate finding. These populations are not reproductive and unlikely to be contributing to recruitment and population growth.

How many queen conch are estimated to remain in the wild?

  • Total abundance is estimated to be between 743 million - 1.4 billion individuals; however, total abundance estimates are uncertain due to limited survey coverage in many areas and the coarse resolution of regional habitat maps.

Did population connectivity inform the status of queen conch?

  • Yes. A connectivity model was developed to improve our understanding on how overutilization and the depensatory processes (due to low adult conch densities) affect queen conch population connectivity throughout the Caribbean region.
  • The results demonstrate that overutilization has resulted in the loss of critical up-current populations. Historically important ecological corridors for larvae flow have collapsed, reducing connectivity among populations.

Will the proposed rule to list queen conch under the ESA create new prohibitions on imports/exports of queen conch products?

  • The proposed rule does not create any additional, or more specific, prohibition on queen conch trade or harvest. However, the Endangered Species Act authorizes NOAA Fisheries to issue protective regulations it deems necessary and advisable for the conservation of threatened species. Under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries may also prohibit any of the actions under section 9(a)(1) of the ESA for endangered species, including import into and export from the United States of the listed species. If NOAA Fisheries were to determine that any protective regulations were necessary and advisable or decide to extend any of the section 9(a)(1) prohibitions to queen conch, those protections would be implemented through regulations that would go through separate notice and comment to the public.
  • Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have queen conch fisheries in territorial waters. There is also a federal queen conch fishery in St. Croix within the U.S. Virgin Islands. The proposed rule does not establish any new prohibitions on conch harvest for these or other jurisdictions. Harvesting queen conch is prohibited in Florida.

What is a threatened species and how is it different from an endangered species?

  • The Endangered Species Act defines an endangered species as "any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range," and a threatened species as one "which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range." We interpret an "endangered species" to be one that is presently at risk of extinction. A "threatened species" is interpreted as a species that is not currently at risk of extinction but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future.

Can aquaculture help restore queen conch populations?

  • Aquaculture, also known as aqua farming, is the rearing of animals from egg to adult for food and stock enhancement. Through aquaculture, queen conch can be harvested for human consumption without removing individuals from the wild. Farmed queen conch can also be used to restock wild populations.
  • The Puerto Rico Queen Conch Hatchery is located at the Naguabo Fishing Association on the Húcares Beach, Malecon de Naguabo. This project is a partnership between the Queen Conch Lab, Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute; Conservación ConCiencia; and the Naguabo Fishing Association.

What are the next steps in the listing process for queen conch?

  • We will consider the public comments received and any new data that may have become available to make a final decision.

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