FoA sues FWS for refusing to release information on the queen conch

Friends of Animals filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Colorado challenging U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to release information about the imperiled queen conch, a distinctive large mollusk known for its flared spiral shell with blunt spikes and pink interior.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, on March 17, 2020 FoA submitted a request for all records held by FWS since Jan. 1, 2010 concerning permit applications, permits and related records for the import and/or re-export of queen conch by the United States.

FWS has not responded as required per public records laws.

“With this lawsuit, we seek to provide the public with information it has a right to receive regarding the queen conch,” said Courtney McVean, an attorney for FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. FoA is adamant these documents will provide some oversight of FWS’s International Affairs Program, which is supposed to be coordinating domestic and international efforts to protect, restore and enhance the world’s diverse wildlife, including the queen conch.

The best available science shows that the queen conch is in deep trouble because of pollution, habitat degradation and human consumption.

The queen conch lives in regions throughout the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, from Bermuda and Florida in the northern extent of its range, to Brazil in the south. Conch are prized for their meat and their large, beautiful shells, and are commercially fished in approximately 30 countries. The U.S. is the largest importer of queen conch, obtaining 78% of the queen conch meat in international trade (about 2,000 to 2,500 tons annually).

Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians sued the National Marine Fisheries Service in July of 2016 over the agency’s refusal to protect the queen conch under the Endangered Species Act following a petition to list it filed in 2012.

A federal judge ruled last August in the case that the NMFS illegally denied ESA protections for the conch and moved the queen conch back into queue for full and fair consideration under the ESA.

The U.S. has destroyed its own conch fisheries in Florida, and now the U.S. demand for conch is depleting fisheries in other countries. We need to take responsibility for reining in this demand and get conch populations on the road to recovery.

Queen conch live primarily in seagrass beds, which are important ecosystems that provide food, shelter and nursery grounds to myriad fish and invertebrate species. Some researchers have compared seagrass beds to tropical rainforests based on their high productivity, structural complexity and biodiversity. Queen conch play a vital role in shaping these communities, principally by consuming seagrass detritus (dead and decomposing seagrass). The loss or substantial decrease of queen conch may cause significant, harmful changes in the ecosystem.