Seahorses are valuable commodities that are traded around the world. Our pioneering research has shown that they are overfished for use in traditional medicines, aquarium display and as curiosities. Our best estimate is that about 15-20 million seahorses enter trade each year. Many more than that are caught, most of them accidentally in non-selective fishing gear.
Towards a sustainable seahorse trade
Subsistence fishers in some nations make a substantial portion of their annual income catching seahorses, and many forms of traditional medicine employ seahorses to treat a range of conditions and ailments. While seahorse fishing is generally a legitimate practice, such extraction must be kept at sustainable levels. From our experience, conservation solutions are often readily adopted when they protect the long-term future of a valuable resource such as seahorses. A sustainable seahorse trade can provide such economic incentives to the fishers and traders who depend on the animals for their livelihood.
Project Seahorse: Groundbreaking trade advocates
In 2002, Project Seahorse was instrumental in generating a landmark global agreement (under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES) that forbids countries to export more seahorses than wild populations can bear. This, the first-ever global agreement on trade in marine fishes of commercial importance, created a new international tool for fisheries management. It also effectively acknowledged that marine fish are wildlife as well as economic commodities.
Project Seahorse has taken an active role in providing information to many levels of the trade network, from customs officials, to traditional medicine practitioners, to aquarists. Yet the implementation of CITES remains a challenge, largely because countries don’t know how to proceed. Overcoming this uncertainty for seahorses would provide a model to help make CITES more effective for marine fishes in general.