Florida Keys

Imports of queen conch can continue after federal Endangered Species ruling

Queen conch
Queen conch

Conch fritter fans, rejoice: After a yearlong review, the National Marine Fisheries Service has decided not to list the queen conch under the Endangered Species Act.

The ruling, which will be filed Tuesday in the Federal Register, is good news for U.S. diners who enjoy conch fritters and fried conch — and businesses that sell them.

It has been illegal to harvest queen conch in Florida for decades. But had the species been listed as endangered, it also would have become illegal to import conch.

National Marine Fisheries Service biologist Bob Hoffman said endangered protection is a high bar, and the review showed that the queen conch did not meet that threshold.

The review was conducted in response to a 2012 petition by WildEarth Guardians that argued the species was being heavily exploited to the point that in some areas a viable fishery no longer exists. In analyzing the entire region of the Caribbean and Florida over a 20-year period, the review found sufficient quantities of conch.

The review did not analyze economics (the U.S. is the biggest importer of conch from Caribbean islands) or the sustainability of the mollusk species, which is desired not only for its delicious white meat but also for its pretty shell that is made into jewelry.