The world’s governments agree to take action to improve the sustainability and legality of the vast trade in dried seahorse

Panama City, November 21, 2022

The 184 Parties (member governments) to the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) agreed to a set of time-bound actions – called Decisions – aimed at improving CITES implementation for the international trade in dried seahorses.

Seahorse side-event at CITES CoP19, Nov 2022. L to R are government representatives for Monaco, Sri Lanka, US, Senegal and Peru with Sarah Foster and Amanda Vincent.

Project Seahorse research and consultations underpinned the actions agreed by the CITES Conference of the Parties at their 19th meeting (CoP19), which took place in Panama from 14-25 November. All seahorses are listed in CITES Appendix II, which means international trade can continue but it must be managed to ensure it is sustainable, legal and traceable. However, Project Seahorse research has revealed that the vast trade in dried seahorses – that largely provoked the Appendix II listing in 2002 – persists with worryingly high levels of illegal trade. Fishers in key source countries for the dried trade have reported continued declines of seahorse numbers despite increases in fishing effort, suggesting that current levels of dried exports are detrimental to wild populations. While our research has identified challenges, our consultations with CITES Authorities and experts have revealed key opportunities for moving the dried trade toward sustainability and legality. It was on this basis that the Decisions were drafted.

The five agreed actions included those submitted for consideration at CoP19 by the Maldives, Monaco, Nigeria, Peru, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Togo, the UK and the United States (with leadership provided by the United States). They also included a few actions from CoP18 (held in 2019) that could not be completed due to the pandemic. Among them were actions directed at the CITES Standing (enforcement) Committee to make recommendations to address the illegal trade in seahorses, and an invitation to CITES Parties with illegal or unsustainable trade to collaborate with key stakeholders and species experts to develop national or regional plans of action to improve CITES implementation for seahorses.

The actions reflect a great deal of effort by Project Seahorse before and during the CoP, but the work doesn’t end now that the CoP is over. Before the meeting, Project Seahorse carried out all research and consultations, and then supported the United States in preparing the document and draft Decisions for submission to CoP19. During the meeting, we held many bilateral consultations with key seahorse range States. We also co-organised a side event, with the US, which focused on seahorses. The side event included remarks from Peru, Senegal and Sri Lanka as representatives of the Latin America, Africa and Asia regions.

While the actions provide the directions, they need to be implemented if we are to see long term benefits for wild seahorses. We hope to see better Party engagement with the CoP19 Decisions than for those adopted at CoP18. While great progress was made for the CoP18 Decisions directed to the Secretariat, few Parties responded to those directed at them. As ever, Project Seahorse stands ready to support Parties in implementing the CoP19 Decisions. Our aim in all efforts is to help Parties to ensure trade is sustainable, legal and monitored. We are confident that the tools are now in place – and the information is available – to keep up the momentum in improving CITES implementation for seahorses.