Use of Population Viability Analysis to evaluate CITES trade-management options for threatened marine fishes

Achieving multiple conservation objectives can be challenging, particularly under high uncertainty. Having agreed to limit seahorse (Hippocampus) exports to sustainable levels, signatories to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) were offered the option of a single 10-cm minimum size limit (MSL) as an interim management measure for all Hippocampus species (≥34). Although diverse stakeholders supported the recommended MSL, its biological and socioeconomic implications were not assessed quantitatively.

We combined population viability analysis, model sensitivity analysis, and economic information to evaluate the trade-off between conservation threat to and long-term cumulative income from these exploited marine fishes of high conservation concern. We used the European long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus) as a representative species to compare the performance of MSLs set at alternative biological reference points.

Our sensitivity analyses showed that in most of our scenarios, setting the MSL just above size at maturity (9.7 cm in H. guttulatus) would not prevent exploited populations from becoming listed as vulnerable. By contrast, the relative risk of decline and extinction were almost halved—at a cost of only a 5.6% reduction in long-term catches—by increasing the MSL to the size reached after at least one full reproductive season.

On the basis of our analysis, a precautionary increase in the MSL could be compatible with sustaining fishers’ livelihoods and international trade. Such management tactics that aid species conservation and have minimal effects on long term catch trends may help bolster the case for CITES trade management of other valuable marine fishes.

Curtis, J.M.R. & A.C.J. Vincent (2008). Use of population viability analysis to evaluate CITES trade management options for threatened marine fishes. Conservation Biology 22(5):1225-1232.