Diving for conch and lobster has been a crucial element of life in the Turks and Caicos for centuries. It’s simply the collection of queen conch, and spiny lobster by diving from the surface on a single breath.
In the past, a "look bucket" was used (essentially a bucket or box with a glass window in the bottom), but today a snorkel mask and fins are the tools of the trade.
Today, diving for conch and lobster remains a mainstay of our small scale fishing industry, as well as being a popular fishing activity for visitors and local alike. Snorkelling for conch is a feature of many of the beach BBQ beach cruises and fishing charters.
With the exception of harvesting lionfish, no marine fish or product may be taken with the use of scuba diving equipment. This is to prevent overfishing of these threatened species.
Queen conch (strombus giga) can be found throughout the Turks and Caicos. Their favoured habitat is shallow depth seagrass beds, which surround many of the islands in our archipelago. This giant marine gastropod is simply picked up of the ocean floor, and carried back to the boat or land.
Caribbean spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus) are another seafood that’s collected by freediving. They’re are most active at dusk and dawn, when they tend to be out scavenging for food. Because of this, there tends to be a very early start the opening day of the lobster season.
Your catch of lobster and conch can be grilled on the beach during your day out, or taken to a local restaurant for expert preparation.
There are quite a few regulations to be aware of when collecting conch and lobster in the Turks and Caicos.
Most persons fishing in the Turks and Caicos must be in possession of a valid fishing license. Daily, monthly, and annual licenses may be purchased from the National Environmental Centre on Providenciales, and at many of the marinas in the country.
Both conch and lobster have applicable fishing seasons, and it’s a violation of the law to gather or be in possession of conch or lobster outside of the open season. Violators face significant fines.
The exact dates vary, yet the conch season is typically open from mid-October to mid-July, and mid-August to April for lobster.
There are also minimum size requirements for conch and lobster.
The Turks and Caicos has a large number of protected nature reserves and national parks, where it’s illegal to harvest any marine animal other than lionfish. Much of the coastline surrounding the island of Providenciales is protected, including the popular Grace Bay Beach, Leeward Beach, the Bight Beach and Bight Reef, Smith’s Reef, and Malcolm’s Road Beach. Fishing in a protected area will incur a significant fine.
It you fish or collect conch or lobster on your own, it’s your responsibility to have the appropriate licenses and have knowledge of protected areas and regulations.