Assisting Parties to meet their commitments: CITES Review of significant trade for Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.), a taxon traded in high volumes

This analysis is being presented to the 17th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to support decision making with respect to the proposed revisions to Resolution Conf. 12.8 (Rev. CoP13) (as per CoP17 Doc. 33 Annex 11 ). The purpose of this Information Document (Inf Doc) is to provide insight into the current process for the CITES Review of Significant Trade (RST), as per Resolution Conf. 12.8 (Rev. CoP13)2 . We use a case study of seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) to draw out observations that should inform best practices in support of species conservation. Our discussion at the end highlights the need for Parties to adopt the proposed revised Resolution Conf. 12.8 (Rev. CoP13) at CoP17, included in Doc. 33, but also highlights ongoing gaps in the RST process that should be addressed.

The RST is CITES’ main mechanism for remedial action when there is concern that Appendix II listed species are being traded not in compliance with Article IV, and thereby are being traded at unsustainable levels. It originated at CoP8, with concerns that CITES was not being effectively implemented and species were being transferred from Appendix II to I. The RST is the only process by which trade in Appendix II listed species is regularly and consistently scrutinized, drawing attention to implementation challenges related to Article IV. Trade in Appendix II species not addressed by RST is not automatically investigated in other ways.

The scope of the RST is limited to Article IV3 , paragraphs 2(a), 3 and 6(a) of the Convention, and to trade in specimens from the wild, from ranching operations, or where the source is unknown (source codes4 W, R, U or blank in the CITES Trade Database5 ). Thus the scrutiny on Article IV implementation through RST has focused on the issuance of non-detriment findings (NDFs, in support of Article IV, paragraphs 2(a) and 6(a)), and not on the issuance of legal acquisition findings (in support of Article IV paragraph 2(b)), or the welfare of live animals during transport (in support of Article IV paragraphs 2(c) and 6(b)). However, other challenges with CITES implementation are frequently identified during the course of the RST including, in particular, implementation of Article IV paragraph 2(b) on determinations that specimens were obtained legally.

We used seahorses as a case study for identifying best practices in the RST process as they are (i) among the top traded Appendix II animals by number of specimens6 and (ii) the first fully marine fishes to go through RST. Our study complements others prepared in support of the review of RST, which did not include fish (see AC26/PC20 Doc. 77 ). The entire genus Hippocampus was listed on CITES Appendix II at CoP12 in 2002, with implementation delayed until May 2004. The Checklist of CITES Species includes 51 seahorses8 , although a recent comprehensive revision of the genus – published in a primary journal – supports the validity of only 41 seahorse species (Lourie et al. 20169 ).

Foster, S.J. & A.C.J. Vincent (2016). IUCN. Assisting Parties to meet their commitments: CITES Review of significant trade for Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.), a taxon traded in high volumes. (English French | Spanish). Information Document for the 17th Meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties. CoP17 Inf. 53. 10 pp.