A global review of seahorse aquaculture

Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) are flagship species for many issues in marine conservation including overexploitation, incidental bycatch and habitat loss. Aquaculture has been proposed as one solution to address unsustainable trade for traditional medicine, aquarium fishes and curios.

Here we review historical and current information on global seahorse aquaculture including characteristics of aquaculture operations, species in culture, contribution to international trade and technical issues associated with raising seahorses in captivity.

We found that prior to the 1990s, seahorse aquaculture was plagued by problems with disease and feeding. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there was considerable expansion in the number and size of aquaculture operations and the number of species in culture. This was reflected in an increasing contribution of captive-bred seahorses to the aquarium trade but not in the larger traditional medicine market.

Currently, the majority of seahorse aquaculture involves small-scale operations in developed countries, employing relatively few personnel and selling live animals for the home aquarium market. Although, there are still considerable technical problems with diseases and with breeding and raising some species, others are performing successfully in aquaculture.

There are currently at least 13 species in commercial culture or under research for their culture potential. However, economic viability remains a concern to many current aquaculture operations including price competition with wild-caught animals. Large-scale aquaculture to supply the traditional medicine market or as a livelihood venture has not yet been demonstrated to be commercially viable, although it is being actively researched.

Koldewey, H.J. & K.M. Martin-Smith (2010). A global review of seahorse aquaculture. Aquaculture 302:131-152. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquaculture.2009.11.010