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Questions and Answers on the Queen Conch Proposed Rule

NOAA Fisheries Announces the Proposed Rule to List Queen Conch as Threatened Under the Endangered Species Act.

What is NOAA Fisheries announcing today?

  • NOAA Fisheries is announcing a proposed rule to list queen conch as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Any interested person can comment and provide additional information on the proposal rule during the public comment period. We will also consider new information that may not have been available when we conducted our status review for queen conch.

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 spent nearly a year conducting 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 has 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 copulate. 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.

How do I submit information and comments?

  • You may submit comments, information, or data on this document, identified by the code NOAA-NMFS-2019-0141 by any of the following methods:
  • Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov and 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.

Who do I contact for more information?

Calusa Horn by phone at (727) 551-5782 or calusa.horn@noaa.gov, or Maggie Miller, (301) 427-8457 or margaret.h.miller@noaa.gov

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on September 08, 2022