Conch is a long time favorite seafood of Key Westers. When England began enforcing taxes on the Bahamas, many Bahamians left for the Florida Keys and said we would rather live in the Keys and eat conch than pay your taxes. So goes one of the many stories of how the Florida Keys became populated. The marine gastropod mollusk “conch” was not a very desirable food in those days, but now it’s a delicacy and has almost been fished to extinction.
There are many species of conch, but the most sought after is the endangered Queen Conch. We are no longer able to harvest this conch in Monroe County. It was banned to commercial harvesting in 1975 in the Keys and banned for recreational fishermen in 1986. Now The United States Secretary Of Commerce is being asked to put Conch on the endangered species list witch will ban the importing of conch all together. Conch harvesting countries will suffer a profound economic impact by the banning of the strombus gigis (Queen conch) and another Key West tradition in food will be lost. Much like the overfishing of sea turtle, the overfishing of conch will only be a memory to those who once got to taste and enjoy.
The hardest thing for me will be when I am out relaxing somewhere on our beautiful islands and I look down and see dozens of great tasting conchs in the turtle grass and I will not be able to eat them! I will remember fondly eating them fresh while we were out on the boat, just washed in ocean water with a squeeze of key lime and washing it down with a cold beer. I will miss fresh made conch salad, fried conch, conch chowder, conch stew, and the Key West favorite - conch fritters. How will I resist not reaching down and cracking one open, cleaning it, chopping it up and enjoying that last piece of conch I will never eat again! I am not sure! I guess I will just enjoy them while I can.
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