Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) and the CITES Review of Significant Trade

The international trade in wildlife is vast, and if allowed to carry on unchecked can pose a significant threat to the world’s biodiversity. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) that aims to regulate international trade of animals and plants, in order to ensure that trade does not threaten survival of wild populations. It is unique among MEAs, in that it has legal mechanisms in place to promote compliance with agreed restrictions on exports. One of these mechanisms is known as the Review of Significant Trade (RST, Res. Conf.12.8 (Rev. CoP13)). The RST identifies any challenges member States (Parties) are facing in implementing certain requirements of the Convention for species for which trade is allowed, but must be regulated, and makes recommendations to assist Parties in overcoming these challenges. As a final resort, this process can lead to trade suspensions.

This report provides a detailed factual account of the seahorse (Hippocampus spp.) experience through the RST process. Seahorses are among the taxa for which trade is allowed but must be regulated for sustainability. Seahorses are unique in their own right, as the first fully marine fishes to go through the RST process since the Convention came into force more than 40 years ago. This report presents the methods and results of a detailed analysis of the movement of eight seahorse species through the RST process. The report underpins a policy document presented to the 17th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP17, September 2016) to support decision making with respect to proposed revisions to the RST process (CoP17 Inf. Doc. 53). The policy document used seahorses as a case study to draw out observations that should inform best practices in support of species conservation, and is in the process of being turned into a primary manuscript.

Foster, S.J. (2016). Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) and the CITES Review of Significant Trade. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 24(4): 48 pp.