Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 4, pp 787–795 | Cite as

Using shell middens to assess effects of fishing on queen conch (Strombus gigas) populations in Los Roques Archipelago National Park, Venezuela

  • Diego Schapira
  • Irene A. Montaño
  • Andrzej Antczak
  • Juan M. Posada
Original Paper


Queen conch, Strombus gigas, is a commercially important gastropod that has been exploited throughout the Caribbean islands for thousands of years. Shell middens in the region are the physical record of a long-term fishery and their study can provide valuable information on selectivity patterns followed by fishermen and on resulting morphological shifts reflected by shells. In this study, we surveyed 27 middens located at Los Roques, Venezuela, to assess pre-Columbian and modern fisheries and measure their impact on local populations of queen conch. Pre-Columbian middens, covering a period of approximately 350 years of exploitation (1160–1540 A.D.), were mostly composed of adult shells (89%) and mean length of catch was estimated at 22.4 ± 0.2 cm (mean ± SE). A decrease in mean length of catch was observed throughout the modern fishery regime, estimated at 22.2 ± 0.3 cm in 1950–1971 and 20.0 ± 0.3 cm in 1990–1995. Higher proportions of immature individuals ranging from 48 to 67% were found in modern middens. Additionally, a decrease in mean length of mature individuals was detected throughout the modern fishery regime. The appearance of younger and smaller specimens is considered as a sign of heavy exploitation of local populations of queen conch during modern fisheries. Pre-Columbian middens in contrast, permitted to establish a relative baseline from which to compare values registered throughout modern times.


Fishing Venezuela Shell Length Immature Individual Mature Individual 



This research was supported by a grant from the Fondo Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación (FONACIT, S1-2001000711). We deeply thank R.S. Appeldoorn, S.K. Wilson, N.J. Graham and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the manuscript. To Fundación Científica Los Roques (FCLR) and their members for the logistical support. To Instituto Nacional de Parques (INPARQUES) for facilitating the permissions to conduct the surveys. We are especially grateful to M.M. Antczak for her valuable archaeological expertise during excavations and to M. Reyes, K. Antczak, O. Antczak, G. González, P. Núñez, F. Vásquez, E. Herrera, D. Muñoz and all staff at Dos Mosquises Biological Station for their valuable assistance in the field.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diego Schapira
    • 1
    • 4
  • Irene A. Montaño
    • 1
  • Andrzej Antczak
    • 2
    • 3
  • Juan M. Posada
    • 1
  1. 1.Departamento de Biología de OrganismosUniversidad Simón BolívarSartenejasVenezuela
  2. 2.Departamento de Diseño, Arquitectura y Artes PlásticasUniversidad Simón BolívarSartenejasVenezuela
  3. 3.Unidad de Estudios Arqueológicos (IERU)Universidad Simón BolívarSartenejasVenezuela
  4. 4.Newcastle Upon TyneUK

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