Improving compliance on seahorse exports under CITES
In November 2002, CITES signatory nations (Parties)voted to list all seahorse species under Appendix II, with implementation in May 2004. An Appendix II listing requires that Parties wishing to export seahorses must first determine that the export will not be detrimental to the survival of seahorse species in the wild (known as a “non-detriment finding”).
CITES Parties have recognised the challenges of setting quotas or undertaking many other management measures for seahorses; there is a dearth of information on most seahorse populations, exploitation, and trade, and seahorse taxonomy still poses many challenges. There are, however, ways that Parties could overcome the immediate difficulties of making NDFs as required by the Convention. Parties are, of course, free to choose how they make NDFs under CITES but the following are recommendations of interim measures that Parties could use in the absence of other options/opportunities.
What follows is a summary of simple and precautionary means of making initial NDFs for wild seahorses, which should be implementable based on existing information and understanding. By implementing immediate measures now, and developing more reliable measures as they learn more, Parties will be managing their seahorse trade according to the principles of adaptive management (Rosser & Haywood 2002).
The following recommendations on how to improve Non-Detrimental Finding (NDF) procedures for seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) are based on the findings of the International Workshop on CITES Implementation for Seahorse Conservation and Trade, February 3-5, 2004, Mazatlan, Mexico (Bruckner et al 2005).
1. Set a minimum size for export
A minimum size limit should allow animals to reproduce before being exploited, thereby increasing the chance that they will be replaced in the population. CITES has recommended a minimum size limit of 10 cm height for all seahorse specimens in trade (CITES Decision 12.54).. This limit represents a compromise between the best biological information available at the time of listing and perceived socioeconomic feasibility
Criterion: Individual seahorses being exported measure at least 10 cm in height.
Information required: Height of individual seahorses being exported.
2. Protect seahorse habitats
Protecting seahorse habitats should help to protect seahorse populations.
Criterion: Adequate protection of seahorse habitats and, by inference, of their populations, within a Party’s marine protected areas (MPAs). For guidance on how much to protect, Parties should look to available national guidelines for MPA coverage, or recent global marine protection targets, which range from 10-30% (Vth World Parks Congress, 2003; CBD, 2006 ).
Information required: The location of habitats suitable for seahorses, or (better) areas where seahorse are actually found, and the location of MPAs in a Party’s waters.
From IUCN ’s marine protected areas programme:
3. Enforce existing laws
Seahorses sourced from trawlers fishing in areas closed to trawling violate CITES requirements for legal acquisition, and should not be traded.
Criterion: Legal sourcing of all seahorses entering trade when obtained in non-selective fishing practices.
Information required: Where and how trawlers (or fishers using other indiscriminate gear) that land seahorses are operating with respect to national laws and regulations.
4. Collect information to increase understanding
Species- and population-specific information are needed in order to identity potential alternative management tools that could supplement or replace the suggested interim measures. All data are useful, no matter how basic, as long as they are presented with a corresponding metric of effort.
Information: Please refer to the workshop proceedings for types of population and fisheries information needed.
Bruckner, A.W. , J. D. Field and N. Daves (editors). 2005. The Proceedings of the International Workshop on CITES Implementation for Seahorse Conservation and Trade. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR-27, Silver Spring, MD 174 pp. view online
Rosser, A. R., and M. J. C. Haywood. 2002. Guidance for CITES Scientific Authorities: Checklist to Assist in Making Non-detriment Findings for Appendix II Exports. Occasional Paper of the IUCN Species Survival Commission No. 27. 86 pp. view online