Magnitude and inferred impacts of the seahorse trade in Latin America

Seahorses (genus Hippocampus) are traded globally for use in traditional medicines, souvenirs and as aquarium fishes. Indications that the trade was expanding geographically in response to increasing demand in consuming nations prompted this first study of the seahorse trade in Latin America. In 2000, over 400 people related to the seahorse trade in Mexico, Central America, Ecuador and Peru were interviewed. Customs data and other trade records from these and five additional countries or regions trading seahorses from Latin America were obtained.

Dried seahorses were exported by almost every surveyed country at some point in the 1990s, with Ecuador, Peru and Mexico exporting hundreds of kg per year over multiple years, and the latter two nations both exporting tonnes of seahorses at least twice. The live seahorse trade was confined to Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Brazil; the last dominating this trade and exporting several thousand seahorses annually. Substantial declines in seahorse abundance, attributed primarily to incidental catches in shrimp trawl fisheries, were reported consistently by respondents in many regions.

These data contributed to an Appendix II listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora of all seahorses, thereby requiring that the trade be monitored and controlled. Additional conservation measures are needed to address fishing pressure on seahorse populations.

Baum, J.K. & A.C.J. Vincent (2005). Magnitude and inferred impacts of the seahorse trade in Latin America. Environmental Conservation, 32(4), 305-319. doi:10.1017/S0376892905002481