A practical approach to meeting national obligations for sustainable trade under CITES


Reconciling conservation and resource use requires adaptive management. The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) is a key tool in species conservation, regulating international trade for a list of species (Appendix II) that are or may become threatened by trade. To export such species, CITES member countries are required to evaluate if their exports are damaging wild populations (dubbed making a non-detriment finding or NDF). When countries find this challenge too great, they often default to banning international trade, thus imposing economic costs on stakeholders and/or driving the trade underground where it is more difficult to control. What, then, are the easiest ways for countries to make NDFs? We propose a simplified spatial approach to making NDFs using the case study of India, which has banned catch and trade of seahorses (Hippocampus spp.), but where rampant illegal trade continues.

Our approach involves mapping the answers to four questions: (1) where are the species found?; and then, for those areas, (2) what pressures do the species face?; (3) what measures are in place to manage the pressures?; and (4) how well are the measures working? Information came from fishers’ knowledge and published literature.

Overall, reported seahorse presence was greatest in the southern Palk Bay region. This region theoretically offered protection to seahorses through a 3 nm bottom trawl exclusion zone and a 60 day closed season. Implementation was problematic. Both bottom trawl and dragnet fishers reported respecting the closed season but three-quarters of bottom trawl fishers reportedly catching seahorses in the trawl exclusion zone. Our conservation assessment identified the opportunity to better implement existing management measures as well as the need for further management action (that would do more than simply banning capture). This pragmatic geographic analysis provides managers in India with a tractable route towards regulating exports at sustainable levels. Our assessment approach can be deployed broadly in assessing sustainability of exploitation and provides an alternative to the current futile bans.

Vaidyanathan, T., Foster, S.J. and Vincent, A.C.J. (2022) A practical approach to meeting national obligations for sustainable trade under CITES. IOF Working Papers 2022 (05), 28pp. Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia.