A study has been released which officially documents trade in seahorses in Thailand and Malaysia.
Preliminary studies and anecdotal reports had suggested that these countries were an important source of the seahorses used in traditional medicine, curios and aquarium display, but relatively few studies had been done historically.
Although all seahorse species (genus Hippocampus) are listed under CITES Appendix II, which means that exports must be regulated for sustainability, a dearth of knowledge on seahorse biology, fisheries, and trade means this is relatively difficult to achieve.
Few seahorse populations have been surveyed, effectively no landings data are available, and few countries have historically recorded any aspect of seahorse trade, to the point where many officials did not realise before 2004, when the legislation was introduced, that their countries were involved.
By interviewing fishermen and participants at many levels of the trade and cross referencing them with official trade documents, the study found that the majority of seahorses were caught as trawler bycatch.
Both countries were found to both import and export seahorses to other Asian nations with both Malaysia and Thailand each exporting in excess of 10,000 kg each year.
Fishers and traders in both countries reported decreasing availability of seahorses, raising conservation concerns.
These apparent declines, in combination with substantial domestic consumption, point towards the challenges that Malaysia and Thailand face in establishing sustainable levels of exports under CITES.