Fisheries, large-scale trade and conservation of seahorses in Malaysia and Thailand

  1. All seahorse species (genus Hippocampus) are listed under CITES Appendix II, requiring that exports of these fishes must be regulated for sustainability. Preliminary trade surveys and anecdotal reports suggested Malaysia and Thailand represented an important source for seahorses used globally in traditional medicine, curios, and aquarium display, but few historic trade or fisheries data are available. Baseline information about pre-CITES catch and trade is essential for managing seahorse fisheries and trade under CITES, and for understanding present-day effects of CITES regulation on the seahorse trade.
  2. In 1998–1999, seahorse fisheries and trade in both countries were assessed by interviewing participants at many levels of the trade and corroborating those surveys with official trade documents.
  3. Seahorses were found to be landed primarily as trawl bycatch. Malaysia’s catch of 2900 kg/year was less than the estimated domestic consumption (5500–6000 kg/year), whereas Thailand’s catch of 6600 kg/year apparently far exceeded domestic consumption ( 520 kg/year).
  4. Both countries imported seahorses from and exported to other Asian nations. Import statistics from Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan recorded maximum annual trade from Malaysia at 1280 kg/year. Trade surveys indicated that Thailand exported at least 5000 kg annually (similar to the estimation of catch), but national Customs records reported 10 500 kg/year in exports, supported by official import records from Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan which indicated that Thailand was the source of up to 11 400 kg/year.
  5. Fishers and traders in both countries reported decreasing availability of seahorses, raising conservation concerns. These apparent declines, in combination with substantial domestic consumption, point towards the challenges that Malaysia and Thailand face in establishing sustainable levels of exports under CITES.

Perry, A.L., Lunn K.E. & A.C.J. Vincent (2010). Fisheries, large-scale trade and conservation of seahorses in Malaysia and Thailand. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Systems 20(4):464-475.