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International Trade in Coral and Coral Reef Species


Executive Summary From the International Trade Sub-Group In assessing the U.S. role in international trade and protection of coral reef species

The United States currently is the number one consumer of live coral and marine fishes for the aquarium trade and of coral skeletons and precious corals for curios and jewelry. In 1996 the U.S. imported over 80% of all the live coral in trade representing at least 350,000 pieces. That same year, the U.S. also imported over 90% of the live rock (reported as Scleractinia). While imports of dead coral have leveled off since 1993, the imports of live coral and live rock has dramatically increased each year. In addition to the direct loss of live coral, coral extraction is contributing to loss of important fisheries habitat.

The U.S. is also a major consumer of seahorses, queen conch and giant clams. In addition to this legal trade, there is also a considerable illegal trade in sea turtle products, such as eggs, meat, leather goods and shell. Although conservation efforts traditionally focus on individual species, the coral reef ecosystem contains interdependent organisms and harvest and trade in one resource inevitably impacts all other reef species.

As a leading consumer of coral reef species, the U.S. has a responsibility to ensure that the harvests that supply our markets are sustainable. The following actions are offered to address these concerns:

Short term deliverables:

increase enforcement capacity to intercept illegal shipments and accurately collect and verify trade data

work with NGO’s and industry to create education and awareness materials that emphasize the concerns regarding the unsustainable trade in coral reef species and destructive fishing practices

explore the applicability of the current cyanide detection test developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s forensics laboratory to be applicable to live tropical fish imports

draft legislation that would include the ability to prohibit unsustainable trade of coral reef species, and require exporting countries to monitor the impact of harvest on their resources

Long term targets:

monitor the global trade in non-protected coral reef species and assess any possible trade threats

promote aquaculture, mariculture and captive breeding propagation programs in the U.S. and abroad for reef restoration and to meet the trade needs

assist source countries in creating sustainable trade programs

International Trade in Coral and Coral Reef Species

International Trade Sub-Group

Report to the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force

In assessing the U.S. role in international trade and protection of coral reef species as prescribed by the President’s Executive Order, the international trade subgroup presents the following information:

The United States currently is the number one consumer of live coral and marine fishes for the aquarium trade and of coral skeletons and precious corals for curios and jewelry. All U.S. states with coral reefs prohibit direct take of coral from their reefs, yet the U.S. is the primary market for coral and coral products. For example, in 1996 the U.S. imported over 80% of all the live coral in trade representing at least 350,000 pieces. That same year, the U.S. also imported over 90% of the live rock (reported as Scleractinia; base rock for marine aquaria consisting of living marine organisms attached to dead coral substrate) [see annex 1a]. Imports of dead coral have leveled off since 1993, however the imports of live coral and live rock has dramatically increased each year. The live trade targets different species, including many large-polyp corals that are rare and grow slowly. In addition to the direct loss of live coral, coral extraction is contributing to loss of important fisheries habitat.

The U.S. is also a major consumer of seahorses, queen conch and giant clams [see annex 1b]. In addition to this legal trade, there is also a considerable illegal trade in sea turtle products, such as eggs, meat, leather goods and shell. The subgroup recognizes that the coral reef ecosystem contains interdependent organisms and that harvest and trade in one resource inevitably impacts all other reef species.

Current Trade Legislation and Action

The Endangered Species Act requires clearance by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors for the import and export of all coral reef species, except for non-protected species for human consumption. Coral reef species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) require additional documentation for clearance. The Lacey Act prohibits the import of any wildlife that has been traded in violation of foreign law and the Endangered Species Act prohibits the import of listed species such as sea turtles.

Although the U.S. has an import/export monitoring system in place, the nature of the live aquarium industry trade makes diligent and thorough enforcement difficult to attain. The port of Los Angeles typically receives 50 live aquarium shipments containing fish, seahorses, coral and other marine invertebrates on their busiest day of the week. One shipment alone can consist of two hundred boxes containing 20-50 individually packaged specimens in each box. Due to their perishable nature, these imports must be inspected and cleared immediately. Wildlife inspectors must weigh the importance of verifying the contents of the shipment against the likelihood that the time delay and temperature stresses of the inspection will cause some specimens to die.

 

Potential Actions

Coral

Problem: Although trade is regulated internationally under CITES, there are serious concerns regarding the sustainable harvest and export of live and raw coral, live rock, and coral products. Commercial harvest of corals causes localized destruction of coral habitats. Live rock is essential for the reef because: it provides important habitat for motile fish and invertebrates; it provides vital substrates for the settlement of larval phases of benthic organisms; and it contributes to the total coral reef biomass. In addition, coral collection for the aquaria and jewelry targets a small number of species that are often rare, slow-growing and long-lived. Overexploitation of these species could result in severe localized extirpations.

Short term deliverables:

increase enforcement capacity to intercept illegal shipments and verify trade data

work with NGO’s and industry to create education and awareness materials that emphasize the concerns regarding the unsustainable coral trade

promote the creation and sale of synthetic corals for the aquarium and decoration trade

develop a manual for identification of corals in trade and provide identification training

draft legislation that would include the ability to prohibit unsustainable trade of coral and coral products, and require exporting countries to monitor the impact of harvest on their resource [see annex 1c]

draft guidelines to limit the exploitation of corals through an export quota system based on the coral life history strategies and rotational harvest areas

Long term targets:

develop a network of holding and seizure facilities to house seized live coral in conjunction with public aquaria

promote aquaculture or propagation programs in the U.S. and abroad for reef restoration and to meet the trade needs

assist source countries in creating sustainable trade programs

 

Seahorses:

Problem: Extensive harvesting of seahorses is occurring for the pet trade and curio trade, but the bulk of the harvest is for the Asian medicinal trade. The main threats to seahorse populations are widespread declines in abundance resulting from over-fishing and habitat loss; seahorse populations in Indo-pacific countries have declined by 25-75% over the last five years. One report suggests over 20 million specimens in trade. Twenty nations worldwide are exporting seahorses including the U.S.; the number of seahorses landed in the U.S. has steadily increased since 1992, with over 112,000 seahorses taken in 1994. Captive breeding programs designed to reduce the pressure on wild populations have been mostly unsuccessful, due to difficulties in rearing young, high incidence of disease, and a continued need for removal of adults from the wild to maintain brood stock. Although seahorses are popular for aquaria, they are notoriously difficult to keep, and very few survive in captivity.

Short-term deliverables:

increase capacity to collect and analyze accurate U.S. trade data

work with NGO’s and industry to create education and awareness materials that emphasize the concerns regarding unsustainable seahorse trade. One set of materials would target the marine aquarium/curio industry and the other set would target the medicinal trade industry.

Long term targets:

explore the possibility of the U.S. proposing seahorses for listing in Appendix II or for discussion at the next CITES meeting.

encourage other countries to collect accurate trade data

encourage captive-breeding efforts

explore the creation of synthetic alternatives for medicinal use

Live Marine Aquarium Fish

Problem: Most countries are not collecting specific data on the marine fish trade, and although some concerns have been raised regarding several species of fish, more study must be done to assess the impacts of trade. In addition, many countries use destructive fishing practices such as dynamiting or sodium cyanide to harvest the marine fish.

Short term deliverables:

increase capacity to collect and analyze accurate U.S. trade data; current data is not computerized by species and is mixed with freshwater fish data

create a public awareness program to highlight the concerns regarding the marine fish trade, including destructive fishing practices.

refine the current cyanide detection test developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s forensics laboratory to be applicable to live tropical fish imports

Long term targets:

monitor the global trade and assess any possible trade threats

implement cyanide testing in the U.S. and prohibit imports of fish caught using cyanide

encourage countries to enforce destructive fishing laws

promote captive-breeding for the commercial trade

Giant Clams

Problem: Giant clams have formed an important part of the diet for Pacific islanders, and their meat and shells continue to be harvested for subsistence and commercial purposes. A more recent industry involves harvest of live specimens for use in the aquarium trade. Eight of the nine Tridacnidae species are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. Hatcheries and grow-out facilities are supplying a portion of the aquaria and meat trade, however clam mariculture facilities have experienced high mortalities from storms, disease and predators. In addition, raising the largest, most desirable species is not economical, and attempted reintroductions to restock depleted reefs has met with limited success.

Short term deliverables:

create consumer awareness materials that express concerns about the unsustainable harvest of these species for the meat trade; promote eco-labeling for mariculture or sustainable use programs.

increase efforts to collect accurate U.S. data on meat trade.

Long term targets:

promote mariculture/ aquaculture

promote regional fishery management regimes which encourage sustainable harvest of wild specimens

Queen Conch

Problems: Wild harvest of queen conch for the meat trade may be unsustainable. The shell trade for jewelry and curios is a by-product of the large meat trade.

Short term deliverables:

    promote regional fishery management regimes which encourage sustainable harvest of wild specimens (an example is the Queen Conch Initiative).

    create consumer awareness materials that express concerns about the unsustainable harvest of these species for the meat trade; promote eco-labeling for mariculture or sustainable use programs.

Long term targets:

promote mariculture/aquaculture programs

 

Marine Turtles

Problem: The import of marine turtles is prohibited except for limited circumstances, yet eggs, meat, leather goods and shell products are still illegally imported into the U.S.

Short term deliverables:

create education and awareness materials (especially in Spanish) regarding the illegal sea turtle trade

oppose any re-opening of legal trade

Long term targets:

    promote efforts to develop regional management regimes for marine turtles

Sustainable Trade Legislation Components:

modeled after the concepts in the current Wild Bird Conservation Act

The United States, as a major importer of coral reef species should play a substantial role in finding effective solutions to the problem of excessive, unsustainable trade in coral reef species, including assisting countries of origin in implementing programs of conservation, and ensuring that the market in the U.S. does not operate to the detriment of the survival of the species by preventing illegal trade in these species through a worldwide enforcement program.

Sustainable utilization of coral reef species has the potential to create economic value in marine wildlife and their habitats, which will contribute to their conservation and promote the maintenance of biological diversity generally. Cooperative breeding and coral husbandry programs also have the potential to promote the conservation of the species and maintain the species in the wild by enhancing propagation and survival.

Utilization of coral reef species that is not sustainable should not be allowed.

Establishment of the authority to create moratoria, quotas or suspensions on imports and exports of coral reef species:

Allow for immediate moratoria

Allow for emergency authority to suspend imports or exports of certain species.

Prohibited Acts:

Import or export of any coral reef species in violation of any prohibition, suspension, quota

Import or export of a specimen which was not harvested from an approved program or captive bred at a qualifying facility

Import or export if harvest involved use of a destructive fishing practice

Interstate transportation of illegally harvested or illegally imported coral reef species

Other prohibited acts other than trade-related such as harvest, collection, sale, mining, fishing, destructive fishing practices, etc.

Exemptions:

Scientific research

Zoological breeding or display

Approved management plans

Cooperative breeding and coral husbandry programs

Penalties

Establish appropriate penalties

Establish Coral Reef Conservation Assistance or a conservation fund

Authorization of funds and FTE’s to implement and enforce the Act

 

D R A F T