Revival of a disappearing resource

SPC and partners work to rebuild green snail fishery in Vanuatu

Human activity has had profound effects on the productivity of fisheries resources. In the future, climate change could have similarly devastating impacts on some fisheries, including the coastal fisheries many Pacific Island communities rely on for food and livelihoods. Resources that have limited geographical presence, and stocks that have been fished to near local extinction, stand a much higher chance of early disappearance. One such resource is the great green turban shell, Turbo marmoratus, commonly known as green snail in the Pacific Islands.

Green snail can grow to over 20 cm and weigh up to 3 kg in live weight. Adults live in shallow waters and can be easily caught by free diving and hand picking. The mottled green outer shell and silver pearly interior makes great inlay decoration, buttons, jewellery and souvenir products popular in Asian markets. In the 1970s and 1980s, 80 to 100 tonnes of green snail were exported annually from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. However, the fishery has now collapsed. Assessments conducted across the Pacific Islands by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and others since 2003 have located living specimens only in Vanuatu and French Polynesia.

The collapse of the green snail fishery can fairly be blamed on lack of management. High prices – US$ 40–50 per piece for whole shell and US$ 20–25 per kilo of processed shell – contributed to its demise, as did several other factors. Green snail does not occur in the same high numbers as other large shellfish. Only one in every hundred juvenile green snails grows to adult size, so it is highly vulnerable to breeding failure when stocks fall too low. This is exactly what happened in the Pacific Islands – with overfishing of adult stocks in the 1970s, reproduction failed and the resource could not recover.

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