State of seahorse fisheries in India, nearly two decades after they were banned

Implementing a ban on fishing specific taxa is difficult enough without the added complexity of the taxa being primarily obtained as incidental catch. Most measures for restricting capture and trade to sustainable levels are directed towards targeted species, while overlooking the needs of incidentally caught species.

Our study investigates the exploitation and conservation of seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) in India, which have been primarily obtained in bycatch globally, in the context of a ban on their catch and trade.

We found that seahorse extraction continues, with annual catches of around 13 million seahorses, based on estimates from the locations we surveyed along the coast of mainland India. Most of these animals were perceivably obtained by non-selective fishing gear operating along the sea bottom, close to the shore, at lower latitudes and shallower depths, particularly in biogenic habitats.

We found that the state with the highest catch and trade of seahorses was also the state where the largest number of fishers provided unprompted comments about the national ban.

Our work indicates the serious limitations of extraction and trade bans on species that are taken incidental to other extractive activities, a message that should also apply to terrestrial and freshwater species.

Vaidyanathan, T. & A.C.J. Vincent (2021). State of seahorse fisheries in India, nearly two decades after they were banned. Biodiversity and Conservation, 30:2223–2253.