April 22, 2002 – Two men have been charged with harvesting more than 500 undersized conch to sell to restaurants that serve the mollusks as a delicacy.
Virgin Islands law prohibits a person from harvesting more than six full-sized conch a day. That law is meant to protect a conch fishery that has been over-harvested to near extinction in the waters around St. Thomas, according to Montclair Guishard, an enforcement officer with the Planning and Natural Resources Department.
A conch must be in a shell at least 9 inches long to be harvested legally from the sea floor, Guishard said. Investigators found that none of the sea animals recovered Friday was more than 5 inches long.
"Taking more than 500 is sick," Guishard said. Illegally harvesting undersized conch and taking more than the limit is common, he said, but he had never before seen a violator with so many.
On Monday, Territorial Court Judge Ishmael Meyers upheld the charges against George Wilson, 33, and Allen Gifford, 34. The two were arrested on Friday while they were shelling and cleaning the conch near Brewers Bay, according to court records.
A suspected accomplice, believed to be the captain of a small boat that was anchored nearby, got away, the documents stated.
The Virgin Islands supports an active commercial conch industry, according to Barbara Kojis, director of marine fisheries for DPNR. But most of the conch harvest now is around St. Croix, she said, because the the St. Thomas-St. John area has not recovered from over-harvesting.
Guishard said he believes the men planned to sell the conch to the operators of food booths in the V.I. Carnival Village, which is scheduled to open Monday night.
Wilson and Gifford are both free on $2,000 bail. If convicted, they face up to six months in prison for each conch illegally harvested.
Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.