By Daniel Neal of Sacramento, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0

Florida’s marine life draws people from all over the world, but what happens when someone gets too comfortable with the state’s natural wonders?

Wildlife laws are strictly enforced in Florida. Last week, for example, a tourist from Houston was charged with taking eight uterine shell from their residences in the Florida Keys. He was arrested and taken to prison.

Again, restaurants serve conch on the menu.

So what is allowed and what is not? What is the uterine shell? And what’s the penalty for taking one?

Here are some answers:

What you need to know about the uterus

Queen shells are molluscs that live in spiral, sand-colored shells with a bright pink or orange interior. They can be found throughout the Caribbean and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Conch is central to Bahamian culture, a part of the island’s diet and a major export. Because of their popularity, scallops are overfished and face threats to their populations.

In the Florida Keys, the womb is also central to the culture. People born in Key West call themselves “shells” after the sea creatures that scuba divers often encounter off the coast.

Laws that protect the uterus

In the 1970s, Florida banned the beloved creature due to overfishing. To this day it is a crime harvest, kill or harm a live conch queen in Florida. It is also illegal to possess or transport a live queen conch, even if it was harvested out of state.

The crime is considered a second-degree misdemeanor, which means someone could face up to 60 days in jail, a $500 fine and six months of probation.

People can collect shells as long as there are no live shells in the shell.

However, live starfish and Bahamian starfish may not be taken. Clams, oysters, and mussels have some harvest restrictions, but may be harvested in areas approved by the Florida Department of Agriculture.

In recent years, there have been several cases where people, usually from out of town, have been arrested after the police spotted them with the Queen of Shells.

Is it legal to serve and eat a queen conch?

So, how will Florida restaurants be able to serve preserved animals for food when it is illegal to kill them?

Florida restaurants buy imported queen conch meat, which is perfectly legal.

The US is a major importer of meat because of how protected it is in US waters. In 2017, the US imported more than 230,000 pounds of uterus sink imported meat. That’s about the same weight as 15 elephants combined.

Hail Queen: The Rescue of a Caribbean Queen

©2022 Miami Herald.
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Citation: How a Mollusk Found in the Florida Keys Could Land You in Jail (August 2, 2022) Retrieved August 2, 2022, from

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