Project Seahorse endorses the vital need to regulate wildlife trade for sustainability, and insists that marine fishes and invertebrates be recognised as wildlife.
It has long been understood that demand for animals and plants as food, medicinal ingredients, pets, and other marketable items places extraordinary pressures on wild populations. In general, however, marine species have historically been treated primarily as economic commodities with far fewer efforts to regulate unsustainable trade.
Regulating international trade
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) offers a notable framework for action to set trade in seahorses and other marine life on a sustainable footing. CITES places species of concern on several lists that then guide how 182 countries (including all range States for seahorses) manage exports and imports of those species. Appendix I bans trade such that, surprisingly perhaps, countries may not engage very much with those species. Appendix II limits trade to sustainable levels and to legally sourced specimens. The listing of seahorses on App II in 2002, with implementation in 2004, opened up new channels of responsibility, ones that need to be more fully embraced by most countries.
We need to insist that all CITES members take full action for seahorses – on both legal and illegal trade – and urge them to establish a far better understanding of domestic trade in seahorses for local consumption. Countries need to develop frameworks for assessing the impact of trade on seahorses as well as action plans to respond to unsustainable levels. Through all this, they also need to be mindful that original capture of seahorses in non-selective fisheries – and not necessarily the trade in such specimens – is sometimes the primary conservation challenge. Illegal sourcing of seahorses is also a significant concern, and one that should unite concerns about illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, drawing on expertise from both communities.
Role of aquaculture
In meeting demands in wildlife trade, countries need to be very discerning about the relative costs and benefits of seahorse aquaculture. This will mean keeping in mind the pressures created by sourcing broodstock, the conservation problems arising from poor fish farming practices, the dangers of releasing cultured seahorses, and the risks of accelerating demand for seahorses.