Confiscation of Shells Is Done Erratically

Dear Editor:

Recent article about confiscation of shells at the airport should serve preservation of the natural environment of Virgin Islands. Nobody is against this principle. However, the way how it is done is completely arbitrary and erratic: shells, according to the article, are confiscated or not confiscated depending on arbitrary decision of the custom officer.

It may more depend on his mood at the time and on the appearance of the traveler with conch, if he likes them or not. It can make people angry and will help nothing for the purpose: he lets go shells purchased but not those he feels that they might have been collected by the tourist in the waters of the National Park.

However, conch from the National Park look exactly the same as other, non-protected conchs. On top of it, the seller of conchs had to get them somewhere, and there is no way how to decide whether it was legal or not.

If conch and other shells cannot be transported out, they should not be collected and sold in the first place. In that case, artists using shells for their objects or bricklayers using shells for ornaments in the cement should be also stopped.

As far as I know from previous articles about this subject, each person is allowed to collect two conch as long as the conch are grown up. We occasionally find on the beach piles of more than 100 conch and other shells which were apparently collected by the fishermen in order to sell them for profit.

If the nature of Virgin Islands is protected, it should be done by checking the source and practice of individual fishermen, not occasional collection of shells by the tourists. These people hardly collect large conch themselves because they usually do not have means how to clean the smelling contents but the local fishermen do—it is their source of income.

Confiscating shells at the airport is against common sense of the laws of the United States: in all cases, the law rather allows 10 guilty people not to be condemned in order to prevent one innocent person to be punished.

This principle should also be valid for confiscation of shells: it is always extremely questionable if the source of the shells is legal or not and therefore, even the guilty people should not be punished because there is no proof that these people did anything wrong.

The burden of proof of wrongdoing is on the custom officer, not on the tourist. Check the irresponsible fishermen who ruin the nature on a large scale but not tourists who find an occasional dead shell on the beach.

Z. Hruza
St. John