Tag Archives: conch

Blacktip Island Hosts Conch Herding Competition

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Eagle Ray Sound, on Blacktip Island’s west coast, is the site of this weekend’s conch herding trials. Herders from across the Caribbean will compete in the semi-annual event. (photo courtesy of Clete Horn)

Blacktip Island will welcome conch herders from around the Caribbean Saturday for the 47th Semi-Annual Caribbean Basin Conch-Off in the island’s Eagle Ray Sound.

“Conch herding’s an island tradition, and we’re damn proud to be selected to host this year’s Conch-Off,” Blacktip Island Traditional Conch Herders president Clete Horn said. “It’s a competitive sport, like sheep herding, except underwater. And with conchs instead of sheep and grouper instead of herd dogs.

“The handler on the surface directs a pair of trained Nassau grouper to herd a half dozen conch across the sand, around coral and whatnot, then into a catch basket,” Horn said. “And it’s strictly catch-and-release. No conchs are injured, despite what some say.”

The herding trials are conducted in heats, with two conchers facing off on opposite sides of the lagoon, directing their groupers with hand motions and finger pops. The first to get six conchs into a basket and to the surface moves on to the next round.

Blacktip Island will be represented by local favorite Antonio Fletcher. Competitors, from as far away as Guiana and Cuba, include regional sensations Shelly Hard, Jorge Pompano and reigning champion Caracol Gigante.

“The trick’s to think like a conch, get inside its brain,” Fletcher said. “Me having The Sight helps with that. Got to have the right grouper, too. Raised mine by hand from little-bitty fry.

“Folks tried herding with stingrays a while back, thinking they’re smarter, easier to train,” Fletcher said. “But the rays get distracted too easy, you know. Like they all got ADHD or something. No, groupers are best, and my Nassaus are best of the lot.”

Animal rights groups are campaigning against the competition.

“One person grabbing one conch for personal use is reasonable,” said Conch Appreciation Committee president Harry Pickett. “Not necessary, but justifiable.

“Chasing bunches of conchs across the sand, then jerking them to the surface for sport, well, it’s not good for the conchs. It can give them strokes,” Pickett said. “That leaves us with lots of traumatized conchs. The last thing this island needs is neurotic snails.”

Conchers were quick to defend their sport.

“It’s Blacktip. Short-term memory’s a non-issue here,” Horn said. “I guarantee they’ve forgotten about it by the time they hit the bottom again. Hell, most of the spectators will have, too.”

The competition is a popular spectator sport among locals and tourists alike.

“Families with kids like to watch from the surface,” Horn said. “But we also have underwater videographers streaming the action to the Sand Spit bar so adults can watch with a cold drink in the air conditioning.”

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Blacktip Island Conch Racers Face Stiff Competition

Racing conchs battle for position in Thursday’s qualification round.

Racing conchs battle for position in Thursday’s qualification round.

Blacktip Island’s fastest conchs will go head-to-head Friday in the Caribbean island’s 13th Annual Conch Races at Diddley’s Landing public pier.

“It’s an island tradition started generations ago by young men trying to get young women down to the beach at night,” island historian Smithson Altschul said. “Next thing you know, someone cooked up an actual race to give the story a veneer of truth. Things took off from there.”

As ever, the races will feature a four-heat, single-elimination format, with the winner of each heat advancing to the championship race.

“This isn’t your father’s conch racing,” conch aficionado Wendy Beaufort said. “Large or small, these conchs are specially groomed for speed. And the competition’s gotten really cutthroat.

“Two years ago someone nicked a conch’s foot with a dive knife pre-race. The poor thing could only limp in a circle. Then last year’s winner tested positive for Viagra.”

The conchs will race on the island’s sand conch course 20 yards offshore from the pier.

“Underwater space for kneeling’ll be available for folks who want to watch first-hand,” race organizer B.C. Flote said. “Most watch via webcam in topside bars, though. They can have a beer there and not worry about their air supply. As hard as these conchs go, they still move at a snail’s pace. A race can take an hour or more.

“This year we’ve also glued GPS trackers on the shells so fans can follow along on their smart phones or tablets. We color code each conch to keep them straight. We thought about naming them, but that seemed silly. Only land crabbers name their racers.”

The event will climax in a cook off featuring conch fritters, chowder, ceviche and burgers.

“Visitors are horrified that we eat the winner,” B.C. Flote said. “But we don’t play favorites. We eat all these suckers. What else would you do them?

“The winner does get its shell spray painted gold and set in the racing club’s trophy case, though. What more could a conch ask for?”

“This is always an exciting time on the island,” resident Alison Diesel said. “Nothing beats a good conch race.”

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