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A West Indian sea snail, the welk (or whelk) is also called a West Indian top shell or a magpie shell. They are not at all like the whelks in the US and Europe. Locally, West Indian welks are herbivores, whereas their northern whelk cousins prefer a meatier meal.

By H. Zell - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
By H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

West Indian welks are edible sea snails and their shells have distinct black and white markings. Known locally as wilks, they’re also called bulgao, caracoles, quigua, and cigua in various parts of the Caribbean and Latin America.

Cool Facts About West Indian Welks

  • West Indian welks can be found in shallow sea waters near shore.
  • West Indian welks are an important part of the economy, along with the spiny lobster and queen conch.
  • The older a welk gets, the smoother the shell and the more distinct the lines become.
  • Each individual welk is distinctly male or female.
  • Welks feed at night on algae and decaying material.
  • Welks are boiled and included in a variety of local recipes. To prevent overfishing of welk in the US Virgin Islands, there are territorial regulations to protect them during reproductive season and limit their harvest size and number.
  • Overfishing welk can significantly impact the population of land hermit crabs, who use empty welk shells as their much needed shelter.
  • Welk are high in omega-3 and eating them may reduce the risk of developing some forms of cancer.
  • Locally, welk can be confused with conch, which are both herbivores, but have different uses.

How to Cook Welk

Boil welk for five minutes to loosen + break down the muscle fibers so you can remove the meat from the shell.

Fish for Welk on St. John

Welk season in the US Virgin Islands opens October 1 and runs through March 31.

Welk season is closed in the US Virgin Islands from April 1 to September 30.

  • Welk shells must be at least larger than 2-7/16″ in diameter.
  • Limit 1 gal. per fisher per day in National Park waters.

For questions regarding territorial regulations, contact the DPNR, Division of Environmental Enforcement in St. Thomas (340) 774-3320 ext. 5106.

For the most recent regulations for fishing in Federal waters, contact NOAA Fisheries Service at 727-824-5326 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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