Two advocacy groups notified the National Marine Fisheries Service today that they intended to litigate the agency’s decision to not list the queen conch (Strombus gigas) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Calling the agency’s review of the species, “a deeply flawed and biased analysis,” the New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians and Connecticut-based Friends of Animals said the need for ESA protection for the species is clear according to the best available science.
“The Fisheries Service’s decision is based on politics rather than science, and ignores the advice of even its own experts,” said Jennifer Best, Assistant Director of Friends of Animals’ Wildlife Law Program. “We hope our notice and potential lawsuit will hold the agency accountable for its actions and bring needed protection to the queen conch.”
In February 2012, WildEarth Guardians petitioned NMFS to list the queen conch under the ESA. In its 90-Day Finding, NMFS, found that the petition and information in NMFS files presented substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. As such, NMFS initiated a comprehensive status review, which was published in 2014. In November of that year, NMFS determined that the species did not warrant listing. “We conclude,” the agency wrote in its 12-month finding, “that the queen conch is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range nor is it not likely to become so within the foreseeable future.”
The advocacy groups disagree with the agency’s findings, saying that 60% of measured populations are below the minimum number required for successful reproduction. They claim the United States is the largest importer of queen conch, importing approximately 78% of the queen conch meat in international trade (about 2,000 to 2,500 tons annually).
“The Fisheries Service’s denial of protections flies in the face of the best science, which clearly shows conch are in deep trouble,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “The government is completely ignoring science telling us that sixty percent of conch are the ‘walking dead,’ meaning that populations are too small to reproduce and the adults are just waiting to die.”
NMFS declined to comment at this time. Today’s notice give NMFS 60 days to respond before a suit is officially filed. Queen conch is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).