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 or spiny lobster by diving from the surface in a single breath.
In the past, a “look bucket” (essentially a bucket or box with a glass window in the bottom) and hook pole were used, 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 locals alike. Snorkeling for conch is a feature of many of the beach BBQ beach cruises and fishing charters.
Except for harvesting lionfish, no marine fish or product may be taken with the use of scuba diving equipment. This is to prevent the overfishing of these threatened species.
Queen conch (Aliger gigas) can be found throughout the Turks and Caicos. Their favored habitat is shallow depth seagrass beds, which surround many of the islands in our archipelago. This giant marine gastropod is simply picked up off 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 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 to 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.
Local Laws and Regulations
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 Fisheries Department (located at #176 Philip Handfield Building on South Dock Road on Providenciales), and at many of the marinas in the country. Annual licenses can only be purchased at the Fisheries Department.
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.
If you fish or collect conch or lobster on your own, it’s your responsibility to have the appropriate licenses and knowledge of protected areas and regulations.