About the Species
The queen conch is a large gastropod mollusk belonging to the same taxonomic group (Mollusca). Queen conch are slow growing and late to mature, reaching up to 12 inches in length and living up to 30 years. The queen conch occurs throughout the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and around Bermuda. They are benthic-grazing herbivores that feed on diatoms, seagrass detritus, and various types of algae and epiphytes. Adult queen conch prefer sandy algal flats, but are also found on gravel, coral rubble, smooth hard coral, and beach rock bottom, while juveniles are primarily associated with seagrass beds.
Queen conch are highly sought after for their meat and are one of the most valuable species in the Caribbean. Learn more about their current fishing/harvest status.
On September 7, 2022, we announced a proposed rule to list the queen conch as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Information and comments on this proposed rule must be received by November 7, 2022. Learn more about the the proposed rule and how to submit a comment.
Queen conch have long eye stalks that can be moved independently and a tube-like mouth called a proboscis that can pull into its shell if threatened.
Queen conch are characterized by a large, heavy, whorl-shaped shell with multiple short spines at the apex, a brown and horny operculum, and a pink interior of the shell lip.
They can grow up to 12 inches and weigh up to 5 pounds. Females on average grow more quickly than males, to a larger size, and have greater weight than males.
Queen conch is a long lived species, generally reaching 25 to 30 years old, and are believed to reach sexual maturity around 3.5 to 4 years of age. They have determinate growth and reach maximum shell length before sexual maturation; thereafter the shell grows only in thickness. Size at maturity can vary depending on environmental conditions.
Queen conch have a protracted spawning season of 4 to 9 months, with peak spawning during warmer months. They reproduce through internal fertilization, meaning individuals must be in contact to mate.
Females can store fertilized eggs for several weeks, and eggs may be fertilized by multiple males. Egg laying takes 24 to 36 hours, with each egg mass containing about 750,000 eggs. After an incubation period of about 5 days the eggs hatch, and the veligers (larvae) drift in the water column from 21 to 30 days before settling to the bottom and metamorphosing into the adult form.
Queen conch are slow moving marine snails that require direct contact to mate and these life history traits make them vulnerable to depensatory processes which impact reproductive success and impedes recovery of depleted populations.
Larval conch feed on phytoplankton, juvenile conch feed primarily on seagrass detritus macroalgae and organic material in the sediment, and adults feed primarily on different types of filamentous algae.
Where They Live
Queen conch occurs throughout the Caribbean Sea, in the Florida Keys, and the Gulf of Mexico, and around Bermuda.
Queen conch use different habitat types including seagrass beds, sand flats, algal beds, and rubble areas from a few centimeters deep to approximately 30 meters.
Adult distributions are heavily influenced by food availability and fishing pressure; in unexploited areas, they are most common in shallow marine waters less than 30 meters depth.
Queen conch may not be commercially or recreationally harvested in Florida waters per state law. In the Caribbean, NOAA Fisheries and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council manage queen conch in federal waters, while the governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands manage queen conch in their territorial waters.
- According to the 2009 stock assessment queen conch are overfished, but are not subject to overfishing based on 2019 catch data.
- NOAA Fisheries and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council manage queen conch in federal waters. The governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands manage queen conch in their territorial waters.
- Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for Queen Conch Resources of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in federal waters, and under Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands regulations in territorial waters:
- Harvest of queen conch is prohibited in federal waters off Puerto Rico and St. Thomas and St. John.
- Harvest of queen conch is allowed in federal waters around St. Croix east of 64°34′ W longitude during the open fishing season (November through May).
- Seasonal and area closures protect juvenile and spawning conch.
- Annual catch limits are applicable to federal waters.
- Daily commercial trip limits, recreational bag limits, and minimum size limits apply to queen conch harvest in both federal (where harvest is allowed) and territorial waters.
- Annual quotas apply for harvest of queen conch in territorial waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Requirements to keep queen conch attached to the shell in federal waters and when landed in the U.S. Virgin Islands allow for effective counting by enforcement agents.
- The International Queen Conch Initiative was established by resource managers from Caribbean countries to coordinate international management of queen conch in the region.
- The United States is a major importer of queen conch, due to the limited harvest allowed in federal waters and U.S. Virgin Islands territorial waters.
- Commercial landings of queen conch meat from Puerto Rico and St. Thomas/St. John (territorial waters) and St. Croix (federal and territorial waters) in 2019 was 160,000 and were valued at $1 million according to the NOAA Fisheries commercial fishing landings database.
- Queen conch are primarily caught by hand, so there is minimal impact on habitat and little bycatch.
- The queen conch fishery has a long tradition in the Caribbean region. The meat is sold either fresh or dried and the shells are used in pottery and jewelry.
ESA Proposed Species
On September 7, 2022, we announced a proposed rule to list the queen conch (Aliger gigas, previously known as Strombus gigas) as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We have completed a comprehensive status review for the queen conch. After considering the status review report, and after 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. We solicit information to assist this listing determination, the development of proposed protective regulations, and designation of critical habitat within U.S jurisdiction.
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.
- 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.
- Throughout Its Range
CITES Appendix II
- Throughout Its Range
SPAW Annex III
- Throughout the Wider Caribbean Region
Key Actions and Documents
This is the status review report for queen conch under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This…