Monday, October 17, 2011

Eating quandries

Belize is one of the few places that still has viable populations of queen conch.  I've been swimming by them every day in the seagrass on my commute to the reef.  Today, I swam down and looked one in the eyes (which are found at the tip of eye-stalks that extend out of the bottom of the shell) before putting out my hand and scaring it back into its creamy brown shell.

Trouble is that conch taste good.  Really good. (Google some recipes for conch ceviche for starters!)
Populations throughout the Caribbean have been hunted to local extinction and they are threatened or endangered all over.  Conch poachers are prosecuted.  Conch conservation is touted. 

So what's the problem.  The problem is I wonder if it's ethical to eat them here.
Conservation is often a very local issue.  What's threatened in one location may be abundant in another.  Consider wolves, or grizzly bears:  less common in the lower 48 US States than Canada or Alaska.  It's legal to hunt these magnificent carnivores in Canada and Alaska, but there's much controversy over hunting them in the lower 48.

So, if you know that a fish (or conch, in this case) is mostly endangered, should you eat it from a place where it is not?  Even this is a more complex problem that it may first seem.  

Consider salmon.  You can't make a general statement saying that eating wild salmon is sustainable because many salmon fisheries are not sustainable.  So, it is a bit of a dilemma about making general statements.

And even here, we're clearly not on a marine reserve where they are protected and consequently  I'm not seeing the small conch in sufficient numbers to tell me that this bays population is sustainable. 

So, will I eat them if our captain gets us some (he's a fisherman in addition to the captain of the boat that takes us here and back)?  Yes, I think I will...but only here.

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