Takeaways From AP Report on Overfishing's Threat to Conch

, and has left others struggling to survive. Overfishing is no longer a theoretical threat, it has wiped out species from areas where they once thrived, and has left others struggling to survive.

Freeport, Bahamas (AP). Overfishing is no longer a hypothetical threat. It has wiped species out of areas where they used to thrive. One result of overfishing is the disappearance of beloved dishes that are culturally significant.

Government officials and conservationists in the Bahamas are working together to save the conch, a marine snail which is central to the island's identity, economy, and diet.

Overfishing is a problem that Bahamians face, but it's also a problem in other places, such as Senegal where white grouper has been taken from the country, which was a key ingredient in the dish thieboudienne. In the Philippines small fish, like sardines, are depleted, affecting the raw dish kinilaw.

What's happening in the Bahamas?

Tereha Davis (49), whose family has been fishing for conch in the Bahamas for five generations, said: "When I was a kid, we didn't have to go so far to get it."

Davis and other people remember the days when you could pick up conchs by walking into the water. Conch fishermen have to travel further away from the shore, sometimes up to 30 miles.

The main food is queen conch. The decline of the queen conch has been dramatic, according to conservation agencies and government authorities. According to a 2011 survey of Exuma Cays - a crucial fishing area - the number of conchs had decreased by 91% over the past 20 years.

Documents state that the depletion was the result of years of heavy harvesting. Fishers who harvested 1.7 million pounds in the 1970s had increased to 14 million pounds in 2006. Conch loss increased on many fishing grounds in the United States starting in the 1990s.

In as little as six to seven years, experts say that the conch fishery may no longer be viable commercially.

What's to Blame?

Andrew Kough, scientist at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, who has studied conch in Bahamian water, says that the shellfish are facing a challenge due to the non-enforcement of laws which restrict foreign vessels from fishing. He said that industrialized fishing fleets of other nations have overexploited areas where conch grows. Bahamian conch fishermen point out that nearby nations such as the Dominican Republic or Jamaica have more strict restrictions on conch hunting than the Bahamas.

Lindy Knowles is a senior scientist with the Bahamas National Trust. She says the Bahamas' association with conch has also played a major role in its decline. Strong local demand led to its depletion across the country.

Knowles says that conchs are unable to reproduce quickly enough to maintain the population.

Is climate change a factor?

Climate change has led to unpredictable weather, which has damaged and disrupted conch habitats.

Scientists say that storms like Hurricane Maria, which hit in 2017, severely damaged seagrass beds in which conchs gathered in large grounds. This led to a thinning of the herds.

Acidification is another problem, as the oceans are warming. This damages conchshells. Changing sea temperatures also disrupt migration patterns. According to a study published in PLOS One, this is likely to disrupt reproductive seasons.

What's being done to save the conch?

The Bahamas government is looking at several options to conserve conch.

A more aggressive enforcement is part of the solution. The Bahamas National Trust is a non profit that manages national park and works to provide fishers with tools to measure conchs so they can ensure the size of the conchs before harvesting.

Knowles says that reducing the conch fishery by half in the next three-year period, as the new proposal proposes, could help to prevent the species' extinction.

Outside pressure could also be reduced on conch. The U.S. is the biggest importer of conchs from the Bahamas and it's considering listing them under the Endangered Species Act. This could stop imports.