Identifying national conservation status, legislation and priorities for syngnathid fishes globally

Conservation assessments are central to determining the extinction risk of species. They help drive effective management plans and regulations to protect threatened species. The IUCN Red List has led the way in assessing over 120,000 species worldwide. Given that conservation of threatened species is the legal purview of national governments around the world, it is vital that we understand species assessments and protective measures at a national scale. However, national assessments are often lacking in many countries, particularly for marine fishes, and even more so for syngnathid fishes (seahorses, pipefishes, pipehorses, seadragons). About 40% of the 278 species of syngnathid fishes are included in the IUCN Red List, on a global scale as threatened or Data Deficient. We must, therefore, ensure that national governments are engaged with the conservation of these species. We drew on databases, expert knowledge, scientific and grey literature, and other documentation to investigate national engagement with conservation of syngnathid fishes, and to identify gaps in knowledge and action. We have thus far been able to uncover information on 64 of the 140 range states with syngnathids and determined that 28 countries had completed a total of 98 national conservation assessments for 52 distinct species (16 seahorses, 34 pipefishes and 2 pipehorses). Our study found that approximately 20% of range states had completed national assessments for syngnathids.

Focusing on priority species that are classified globally as threatened or Near Threatened, our gap analysis discovered that only 13% of range states had assessed syngnathids at a national level. No range states in Africa, the Middle East, and North America had such national assessments for priority syngnathid species. Specific regulations for the protection of syngnathids at the national level were identified for half of the 64 range states with information, but were patchy and unpredictable with many prominent gaps. Legislation, where it existed, either covered all seahorses or a few species found within their waters, and some even included all syngnathids. Measures varied from constraints on fishing and/or trade to protection of syngnathid habitats. It was notable that many assessments and protective measures had been often developed in a rather arbitrary manner, without good data or comprehensive analysis. Very few countries were found to have government-led monitoring of syngnathids. In order to determine if rules and regulations are helping the conservation status of syngnathids at the national level, laws need to be implemented and monitoring programs need to be initiated. For effective management, conservation assessments need to be grounded in data and analysis, and management-tailored accordingly.

Stanton, L.M., Foster, S.J. and Vincent, A.C.J. (2021). Identifying national conservation status, legislation and priorities for syngnathid fishes globally. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 29(2) 43pp.