As the blue-and-white skiff cuts across the bay to Naguabo on the eastern tip of Puerto Rico, fisherman Gabriel Ramos is the first to come into focus, waving his arm in excitement. The closer the boat skips to shore, the more details emerge: dive tanks clanking in the hull, gaffs for catching pulpo (octopus), spearguns for pargos (snappers). Only at the dock does the day’s haul become visible, in two buckets at the bottom of the boat. One is filled with slabs of carrucho—queen conch. Carrucho is a prized catch. Selling for US $14 per pound, it’s the priciest item in the fish markets along El Malecón de Naguabo, the nearby waterfront promenade known for fresh seafood.
Today’s conch prize, however, is not the sliced white flesh heaped in the first bucket. Ramos is pumped about what looks like a clump of shelly sand, sealed in a sandwich bag and floating in seawater at the bottom of the second bucket. It’s a string of conch eggs.
A mother queen conch lays half a million eggs over a day or so in a gelatinous strand that, unfurled, would stretch longer than a semitruck trailer. She camouflages the strand with sand as she goes, fussing it into a tidy pile that could pass for a bit of coral or shell. Laying nine or so masses each season, she will send nearly five million larval conchs a year into the sea. Fewer than one percent will survive to grow into the Caribbean’s favorite marine snail, with the glossy pink shell and sweet meat eaten across the 26 countries in its range.
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