Date: Thu, 26 Nov 1998 06:45:51 -0500
Reply-To: Conchologists of America List <CONCH-L@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>
Sender: Conchologists of America List <CONCH-L@UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>
From: Lynn Scheu <amconch@IX.NETCOM.COM>
Subject: Re: Sanibel
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Ok, Mark, now you've done it! After reading your contention that
collectors are responsible for the dearth (death?) of several shell species
in and around Florida, I got all het up. (I know we have been over this
ground before, but so long as we have new people come onto this list, or
have the same unfounded accusations crop up against shell collectors, I
think arguing the subject is a worthwhile pursuit) In defense of our
hobby I checked out some of the older literature I could scrounge up on the
subject , What I found:
According to the 1954 edition of Tucker Abbott's American Seashells,
Terebra taurina was "Formerly considered quite rare, but now not
infrequently dredged in the Gulf of Mexico." Percy Morris in Field Guide
to Shells of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and the West Indies (1973) says,
"Once regarded as extremely rare, this shell has long been a collector's
item; it is now known to be uncommon rather than rare." Twila Bratcher in
her Living Terebras of the World says they range from Southwest Florida and
the Gulf of Mexico to the West Indies and Brazil and are usually in deeper
water. One doubts that the collector had anything to do with the scarcity
of these mollusks.
Strombus gallus in the 1954 Abbott: "Southeast Florida (rare) and the West
Indies. . . . This species is not at all common although it may be obtained
in fair numbers along the north coast of Jamaica." Morris says it is
relatively uncommon throughout its range. These have never been common in
Florida, and blaming the collector for their absence is counterproductive.
Mitra florida: Abbott in 1954 says "An uncommon species considered a
choice collector's item. "
Cymatium parthenopeum is not even listed in American Seashells 1954
edition. Morris in 1973 lists it. One could read this as their becoming
more common, not less common. And these are a species with a long-lived
veliger stage, so what matures here might not be spawned here anyway.
Cittarium pica: Now there's an interesting case, definitely a victim of
climate change. This species was in Florida when the waters were warmer.
But even in 1954, Tucker says their range was Southeast Florida (dead) and
the West Indies (alive). Morris only lists it from the West Indies. It is
known commonly as the West Indian Top. Julia Rogers' Shell Book (1908) says
they are found only in Charlotte Harbor. Period. She doesn't mention
whether they are live or dead. Otherwise she ascribes their range to the
West Indies. In the 1974 edition of Tucker's American Seashells, he says
they are occasionally introduced to the Florida Keys but do not survive
there. It may be that man did extirpate the species from S. Florida,
perhaps even in historic times, but I would contend that it was for food,
not shell collections.
What I concluded:
I think ascribing the absence of these species in Florida to the actions of
shell collectors is a mistake, Mark. There are all too many people out
there ready to believe that shell collectors wear horns and a tail and
chase down their victims with pitchforks. Tucker, as others have said,
made a longtime study of the reproductive habits of mollusks and was
extremely interested in the effects that shell collectors had on them. He
concluded that they were not harmful to the numbers of any species. He
went on national TV to tell the world that.
You mention also that none of these species was commercially harvested.
That's true. And there's a reason for it. Commercial harvest is not
practical unless the species occurs in large numbers. Which would seem to
indicate that these species were never present in "commercial" numbers in
the first place. Furthermore, with wise management, many species seem to
continue to survive and sustain their numbers in the face of commercial
harvesting. We eat scallops with abandon, and yet they are not extirpated
from Florida waters. They get scarce, the fishery of their species dies
out, and their numbers increase again, if we haven't trashed their habitat,
And speaking of collecting for food, and commercial collecting, we have a
serious problem of definition. The collector seems to get a black eye,
over and over again, because we use the word "collector" indiscriminately.
We use it to apply to the ignorant tourist with his bag full of incipient
garden edging or souvenirs for the family back home, to the tourist boat
skipper making an extra few bucks by stripping the reef of Cyphoma gibbosum
and urchins, to the commercial harvesters, to the folk picking the rocks
clean of all forms of edible life, and to the scientific collector who
takes one or two, and maybe (such a profligate waste!) a few for trade.
Do we belong in this assemblage? I don't think we do.
If one searches through the literature for evidence of man's collecting
being responsible for wiping out populations (there is, by the way, no
evidence of man wiping out marine molluscan species) one finds that there
is indeed such evidence. But when one reads the actual studies in
question, one finds that in every case "collector" is used to mean "shell
gatherer" or "shell harvester," to apply to someone who takes all he can
find for the dinner pot that night. We shell collectors are not food
gatherers, yet when these studies are cited, when they are applied, those
doing the citing seem always to include us as well, sort of by definition
of the word "collector."
What I think, for what it's worth:
If we are shell collectors . . . whether believers in taking only beach
specimens or takers of live specimens . . .we must isolate and identify the
risks to mollusks, on Sanibel or on this planet. And in order for us to
become part of the solution, we need to realize that we are not part of the
problem! We need to find a way to separate ourselves from the tourists
and omnivorous harvesters. . . separate ourselves in our own minds before
we can possibly convince the rest of the world.
If we keep accepting the "lumping" and absorbing the blame (while the
polluters and developers and tourists and reef rapers take none of it)
we'll allow ourselves to become scapegoats, as well as focal points for the
blame. That will do no good whatever. The powers that be will just outlaw
our activity and feel all warm-fuzzy and virtuous about it , while they
remain wilfully blind to the real dangers because legislating against them
is economically distateful or politically incorrect. And business will go
on as usual . (After all, they've gotten rid of those lousy shell
collectors who kill all the shells and so mollusks are now safe for
posterity.) And by the time the regulatory world wakes up to its mistake,
the damage to the mollusks may indeed be too great to repair.
I submit that anyone who calls himself a shell collector needs to be a
responsible one, and that includes understanding and being accountable for
what we do, and it includes defending our actions through a clear
conviction that what we do is right and good. Instead of being apologists
for the wrongs of other groups, let's stand up for our hobby and our
passion. And teach others about it and the good it does. Let's lobby for
bag limits to prevent over-"collecting" of mollusks and other marine life,
and for care of the environment it inhabits.
Maybe we ought to talk about the good we do for a while? Just to get it
straight in our own minds?
In the interest of getting the turkey into the oven, I'll yield the oyster
crate to the next speaker.