‘Don’t let conch go to waste’

By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT

tsmith-cartwright@tribunemedia.net

AGRICULTURE and Marine Resources MP Michael Pintard wants conch vendors to be allowed to operate curbside services.

He spoke to The Tribune yesterday amid concern that captured conchs have been dying and going to waste under COVID-19 rules.

“I believe curbside services is something that I’m a strong advocate for,” he said yesterday.

“However, the competent authority sees more data and information than I do and therefore the competent authority is being advised by medical staff in terms of what might be the appropriate approach to take in order for them to transition to a curbside selling arrangement.”

The current emergency powers order prohibits restaurants and food vendors from operating at Arawak Cay, Potters Cay and at other “Fish Fry” locations, including those in Grand Bahama.

Wendi Constantine, president of the Bahamas Dock and Allied Venues Vendors Association, told The Tribune this week that she estimates more than 100,000 conchs have likely died amid forced business closures.

While some Bahamians have called on vendors to free conchs if their business is closed, Mr Pintard said he disagrees.

“For them to turn it loose is to cost them financially and I wouldn’t support that,” he said. “I think there’s a balance that has to be struck. We are working on that, I’m talking with Ms Constantine and the competent authority so that they are able to make a living. We cannot afford for them to go under. I’m an advocate for curbside sales. While we continue those discussions, we want to make sure they are unimpeded by law enforcement and that they are able to go retrieve their conchs, crack them out, freeze them where necessary and sell them not just to fish houses but that they are able to sell to restaurants and to others. That’s what my recommendation would be, to move them out of harms way and ensure that they are sold or stored.”

Bahamas National Trust Executive Director Eric Carey also called on vendors to freeze their conchs.

“It’s basically very simple, if they have conch in the water they should, based on experience, know how long conch could stay in the water tied together. My recommendation on what they should have done is to take the conch and simply freeze them. After freezing them, then they can sell them to some of the restaurants that have crack conch on the menu rather than let them just stay in the water and die. They might argue, ‘well we won’t make as much money,’ but you will make something, as opposed to just letting them stay in the water and die,” he said.

Ms Constantine, however, said not only is it impractical for vendors at Montague to sell their conchs to restaurants, but many lack resources for freezing the conchs.

“Vendors are not equipped to sell them wholesale,” she said. “You would need hundreds and hundreds of thousands of conchs for that to be feasible and small vendors can’t supply that. To do skin conch, boats must be stocked with freezers. Some don’t have capability to have freezers. They’re not set up for that. If I do live conch, I don’t have the equipment to do skin conch. People who do that are out to sea for a longer period of time which requires more food, more fuel, etc.”

As for transporting conchs from docks to freezers, she said: “Who’s signing up to pay someone to have the conchs dived up, packaged and taken to the freezer? These people are not working. You have to pay a diver to dive up a conch, you have to buy the bags to package them. This is a big business, it’s not as simple as they think.”

As for calls that vendors free conchs that can’t be sold, Ms Constantine said that too is impractical.

“Vendors would then have to hire a boat and a diver to take the conch to set them free, that too is a cost,” she said. “Who’s going to pay for that? These people have already acquired expenses and you’re saying they must acquire more expenses to free conchs after they’ve already paid their crew, bought food and grocery to get the conchs? That’s not logical. Even if you just release them from the strings, you would still have to spread them out. Conch is like this, if you have a dead conch on a bunch and leave them there, that will kill the rest. You still got to pick up the conch to ascertain if you have a dead one in the midst and have to separate it. It is not an easy process. Maybe if some had electricity at the dock they would have enough space to freeze the volume that they have, but they don’t have that.”