Pregnant males shake up thinking on wildlife trade
Friday 15 November 2002
Seahorses become first commercial marine fish to be managed by 160 countries
(LONDON) The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreed by a 75 percent majority to list all 32 species of seahorses on Appendix II of the Convention.
This major development in marine conservation means that, beginning in mid-2004, 160 countries around the world will begin controlling the trade in seahorses to ensure that use is compatible with their continued survival in the wild.
Seahorses are the first fully marine fish species of commercial importance to be listed on CITES and the only fish to be moved under international trade controls as the result of this meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Santiago, Chile.
"Seahorses often set precedents. After all, only the male seahorse gets pregnant," said Dr. Amanda Vincent, Director, Project Seahorse. "This listing is a call to action. The challenge now is for countries to regulate the vast international trade so well that seahorse populations begin to recover. Such an ambitious endeavour will require all possible collaborations. The CITES decision certainly marks a good beginning for the future of the world's seahorses."
Of all wildlife trade issues under international conservation management, seahorses will represent the greatest trade volume with more than 25 million animals a year moving among at least 75 nations.
Seahorses are fished for traditional medicines as well as the aquarium and curiosity trades. These direct threats, along with incidental catch by trawlers and habitat destruction, have led to severe population declines in many regions. Out of 32 species of seahorses, 20 appear on the 2002 World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. (One as Endangered. Nineteen as Vulnerable to the risk of extinction.) Too little is known about the other species to assess their status of confidence.
This listing is the result of ten years work by Project Seahorse. This marine conservation organization carried out the first field surveys and analyses of the seahorse trade, is responsible for IUCN Red List assessments of seahorses, established the first conservation programs and produced the identification guide that helped convince CITES that trade management would be viable. Project Seahorse also chaired the CITES working group that recommended listing on Appendix II.
"As we work to secure the future of wild seahorse populations, we must take into account the needs and aspirations of small scale dependent fishers. Without seahorses, they would be forced to exploit another vulnerable resource, potentially with more grave ecological and economic consequences," said Dr Heather Hall, associate director of Project Seahorse.
To reflect this concern for the dependent fishers the CITES listing has been deferred to come into effect in 18 months, the longest delay ever given to a listing implementation, to enable governments to ensure good implementation that is respectful of the fishers and traders.
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Notes to editors
About Project Seahorse
Project Seahorse is a marine conservation organisation. In securing the future for the threatened and charismatic seahorses, Project Seahorse is addressing many of the most pressing issues affecting marine life. The team undertakes biological and socio-economic research, facilitates community-based management, shapes sustainable trade, and catalyses international policy.
Project Seahorse is led by Dr Amanda Vincent (University of British Colombia, Canada) and Dr Heather Hall (Zoological Society of London, United Kingdom) with teams based in Canada, UK, the Philippines, Hong Kong SAR, Australia, Portugal and USA. The group works in formal partnership with the John G. Shedd Aquarium (USA), the Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources (Philippines), World Wide Fund for Nature Hong Kong, TRAFFIC East Asia and the University of Tasmania (Australia).
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement among 160 governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices, according to the degree of protection they need. For additional information see www.cites.org .
- Appendix I include species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
- Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival.
- Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade.
Seahorse facts and figures
- At least 23 of the approximate 32 species of seahorse are exploited.
- A minimum of 13 species sold dried for traditional medicine
- 17 species sold dried as curiosities
- 18 species sold live for the aquarium trade
- It is estimated that the global trade in dried seahorses exceeded 70 tonnes in 2000. This would amount to at least 24.5 million seahorse, using an average of 350 seahorses per kilogram
- Subsistence fishers in developing countries obtain important income from targeting seahorses. In addition, seahorses can attract considerable earnings from tourists and divers
- All male seahorses become pregnant and as in other fishes with obligate paternal care, taking the male will also remove or kill all its dependent offspring
- Seahorses have highly structured social behaviour. They form long-term faithful pair bonds that enhance their reproductive output. If one member of a pair is fished, its partner also stops reproducing for a prolonged period. Seahorse monogamy means that fishers finding one seahorse will search carefully for its partner, thus frequently catching both
- Seahorses are slow growing and can take a year to mature yet juveniles find ready market as aquarium fishes or in patent medicines. Thus young seahorses are fished before they can reproduce
- Seahorses have low mobility are sparsely distributed and are site faithful. This means that a skilled fisher need only complete several careful surveys of an area to eliminate local seahorses. It also means that recolonisation of depopulated areas is very slow
- Seahorse fecundity is low, with each pair commonly producing only 1000 young per year. The seahorses' low fecundity means that populations will find it more difficult to recover from overfishing
Uses of seahorses
Seahorses as Traditional Medicines: The majority of seahorses (as much as 95 percent) are used in traditional medicine (TM), especially traditional Chinese medicine and its derivatives (e.g. Japanese and Korean medicines), which together have a large global constituency. Treatments including seahorses are considered to address a range of conditions, including asthma and other respiratory disorders, sexual dysfunction such as impotence, and general lethargy and pain. Traditional medicine is recognised by the World Health Organisation as providing a viable health care option
Seahorses as ornamentals: Seahorses have been popular fishes for aquarium hobbyists for many years. The vast majority of seahorses bought from aquarium shops are wild-caught and fare poorly in captivity, leading to repeat purchases. In some regions, the aquarium hobbyist trade is the primary pressure on seahorses.
Seahorses as curiosities: Many dried seahorses are sold as curiosities or souvenirs. They are found in tourist shops as key chains, glued to candles, picture frames, suspended in yo-yos, and much more.
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