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Global Protections for Seahorses to Take Effect This Month; New Permit Requirements Introduced for International Trade



May 18, 2004

Patricia Fisher, (202) 208-1459


The United States will join more than 160 nations this month in implementing new permit requirements for global trade in seahorses. Designed to promote international seahorse conservation efforts, the regulations take effect on May 15, 2004.

Issued under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), an agreement that regulates and monitors trade in animals and plants through a system of permits, the implementation of new measures was delayed for 18 months. This delay was to allow countries that harvest seahorses adequate time to assess seahorse population levels, establish management plans, and determine appropriate levels of trade.

"The protection of seahorses and other marine species is a growing concern," said Service Director Steve Williams. "The United States and its CITES partners are working together to ensure that trade in these unique fish can continue without threatening their long-term survival."

Global seahorse trade involves the harvest of millions of fish each year. Most are dried and used whole or in compounds as traditional medicine to treat a variety of disorders. Hundreds of thousands of seahorses are also collected live for sale in the aquarium trade.

CITES member nations agreed to place all seahorse species on the treaty's Appendix II at their last meeting in November 2002. Although animals and plants listed on this appendix are not currently threatened with extinction, they may become imperiled without appropriate measures to ensure that trade is sustainable.

Under the new rules, shipments of seahorses that are traded live for home aquarium display and dead as curios and traditional medicine must be accompanied by a permit from the country of origin or re-export. Such permits confirm that the seahorses were legally acquired and that the trade being authorized does not represent a threat to the species' survival in the wild.

Americans visiting other countries who buy seahorse curios or dried seahorses for medicinal use may still be able to bring limited quantities (generally, no more than eight items) home with them for personal use. Travelers, however, should first check with CITES authorities in the country they are visiting since some nations require that permits be obtained for all exports of CITES-listed species, including individually purchased tourist souvenirs made from Appendix II wildlife.

Sea horses can be found in shallow coastal tropical and temperate waters worldwide. With more than 30 different known species, seahorses range in size from 3/4 to 12 inches. The proximity of their habitat to land makes them vulnerable to such threats as pollution, dredging, and trawling.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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