Pipehorses - large members of the seahorse family Syngnathidae - are highly valuable ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The volume, value, sources and trade routes of pipehorses in international trade remain poorly understood, however.
This study, carried out in Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) in January 2002, provides first estimates of these variables from interviews with wholesalers,
retail surveys and Customs data. It appears that at least 1000-2000 kg of pipehorses are traded each year within Hong Kong, with a retail value of HKD2700-6700 per kg. Historically, Australia has been the most important source nation. However, indirect
estimates from Customs data suggest that Malaysia, the Philippines and particularly Thailand may also be important exporters of pipehorses to Hong Kong. The
effect of trade on the survival of pipehorse populations cannot be evaluated at present. To ensure long-term sustainability of pipehorse trade and to avoid the need
to consider listing under CITES, increased engagement with TCM stakeholders is required. This will allow more precise evaluation of the trade, determination of
alternatives to pipehorses in TCM and acceptability of management measures or controls. In addition, reporting by genus or species from other source and import
nations is urgently required to determine the global effects of trade on pipehorses.