If you’re lucky enough to find yourself holidaying in one of the 700 odd islands in The Bahamas, it’s only a matter of time until you stumble across their beautiful conch shells in a market, or indulge in their national dish, conch.
Pronounced ‘Konk’ conch is a calamari like firm white meat with a chewy texture found within the conch shell. You can get conch every way imaginable; Conch Salad, conch burgers, conch gumbo, conch curry, creamy conch chowder, cracked conch and the beautiful cracked conch sandwich to name just a few.
Conch have been on this planet for around 65 million years and you will generally find them in the shallow, warmer waters of our planet. Usually in waters below 100 meters deep within the safety of the seagrass beds. Unfortunately, the number of conch is in decline. A study in The Bahamas over the past 5 years has found that one of the healthiest adult populations of conch has dropped by a staggering 71%.
But why is this?
One contributing factor to this is the shallow habitat the juvenile conch shells cluster. The very shallow waters are extremely accessible to humans. This means the juvenile conch shell gets fished before it has time to reach sexual maturity and reproduce (which can take up to 6 years in some cases).
Conch have it pretty tough. They move at a snail’s pace (literally), apart from the tough outer conch shell they have no defense mechanism & and they are the food of choice for lobster, crab, tourists and the locals alike.
Now the conchs’ Caribbean habitat is made up of different countries and with each country comes different regulations, fishing techniques, and views on the current state of numbers. This makes it quite tough to try and regulate what size conch are being taken, thus making it harder to boost the conch population again. The Bahamas National Trust has set up a Conchservation (konk-servation) campaign to help protect Conch in The Bahamas through policy change, research and citizen science. You can find out more about the Conchservation campaign on their website here.
Should I eat the conch, or not eat the conch?
We say you should try the conch. Chances are you are only going to be in The Bahamas once. Just be very careful to only eat adult conch and try to support restaurants, shops and market stalls that sustainably source their conch. Also, try to stay away from buying arts & crafts made from the juvenile conch shell.
How to recognise an adult conch Shell
- You can only tell the difference between adult and juvenile conch when they are still in their shell, or not ‘knocked’.
- The lip of the conch should be fully flared and well formed. (The juvenile conch will have a smaller ‘rolled lip)
- The lip should not be paper thin, you are looking for a sturdy thick lip.
One great place to head for a great selection of conch is Bugaloo’s. They have a great ‘From The Crawl’ menu featuring an awesome selection of conch dishes with all the essentials. Even better they will also take you out the back so you can select your own conch shell and they will take the meat out for you!