Global seahorse trade defies export bans under CITES action and national legislation


Illegal trade undermines efforts to achieve sustainable use of wildlife, including marine fishes. This study investigated the illegal trade of seahorses, among the first taxa of marine fishes to come under global trade restrictions. Seahorses are listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This designation allows exports of specimens that are sourced sustainably and legally (within CITES rules). However, all countries historically exporting large numbers of seahorses have since banned trade or are under CITES export suspensions. In particular, Thailand, previously considered the source of about 75% of all wild dried seahorses, suspended exports in January 2016.

To investigate global compliance, 220 interviews were conducted with traders in Hong Kong Specialist Administrative Region (hereafter Hong Kong SAR), the largest entrepôt for dried seahorses. This study sought to understand current sources of seahorses (2016–17) and relative volumes from each source. Traders reported obtaining dried seahorses from many countries with bans on seahorse exports, most notably Thailand and the Philippines. Indeed, it is estimated that almost all dried seahorses in Hong Kong SAR (95%) were reportedly imported from source countries despite export bans being in place, indicating a widespread lack of enforcement. More broadly, trade regulations, including bans, are likely to be undermined when indiscriminate extraction persists, as with seahorses in bottom trawls and other non-selective fishing methods. Attention must be directed at managing extraction as well as increasing enforcement of trade bans.

Foster, S.J. , Kuo, T-C., Wan, A.K.Y. & A.C.J. Vincent (2019). Global seahorse trade defies export bans under CITES action and national legislation. Marine Policy 103: 33-41.