Changes in the trade of bycatch species corresponding to CITES regulations: the case of dried seahorse trade in Thailand

Abstract

Exploitation for trade is one of the biggest threats to many species, especially for marine fishes. Trade regulations should, therefore, be effective in helping conserve marine fish populations. The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), one of the few multilateral environmental agreements with enforcement capacity, has embraced a number of marine fishes in recent years. However, the impacts of such measures on wildlife trade have rarely been assessed. We conducted a case study of the dried seahorse (Hippocampus spp.) trade in Thailand to understand the trade of these species under CITES regulations. We carried out 203 semi-structured interviews with traders to estimate the economic scale of Thai seahorse trade, and compared perceived changes with official trade datasets. Even though most seahorses were incidentally caught, we estimated that dried seahorses could be worth US$26.5 million per year for Thai fishers. However, the total declared annual export value was only around US$5.5 million, and had decreased to US$1 million in 2013. Considering the economic value of seahorses, the large discrepancy between declared export volumes and catch estimates suggested that trade may be underreported. While official data shows the export volume decreased after the implementation of CITES listing in 2005, our respondents did not report a similar trend. In contrast, the prices of seahorses were reported to be increasing. Our study highlights the economic importance of marine fishes captured as bycatch and the importance of international and domestic management measures for the trade of bycatch species.

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Acknowledgements

This is a contribution from Project Seahorse. We are grateful to all respondents for spending their time with the researchers and sharing their knowledge of seahorses in trade. We sincerely thank the Thai Department of Fisheries, Kasetsart University, and National Research Council of Thailand for their assistance in Thailand. Our Thai collaborators Praulai Nootmorn at Department of Fisheries, as well as Suchai Worachananant at Kasetsart University, provided invaluable support for this research. We also thank Andres Cisneros, Julia Lawson, Tse-Lynn Loh, Riley Pollom, and Tanvi Vaidyanathan who commented and gave suggestions for this manuscript. This research is supported by People’s Trust for Endangered Species, Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong, Guylian Belgian Chocolate, and anonymous donors.

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Correspondence to T.-C. Kuo.

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This article belongs to the Topical Collection: Biodiversity exploitation and use.

Communicated by Angus Jackson.

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Kuo, T., Laksanawimol, P., Aylesworth, L. et al. Changes in the trade of bycatch species corresponding to CITES regulations: the case of dried seahorse trade in Thailand. Biodivers Conserv 27, 3447–3468 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-018-1610-2

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Keywords

  • Multilateral environmental agreement
  • Hippocampus spp.
  • Wildlife trade
  • Consumption value
  • Local knowledge