Exploitation and trade of Australian seahorses, pipehorses, sea dragons and pipefishes (Family Syngnathidae)

Keith M. Martin-Smith a1p1c1 and Amanda C.J. Vincent a1p2
a1 Project Seahorse, Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Avenue Dr. Penfield, Montréal, Québec H3A 1B1, Canada

Article author query
martin-smith km   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
vincent acj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Seahorses and their syngnathid relatives have provided a focus for efforts to ensure sustainable use of marine resources, with new international trade controls (CITES Appendix II) implemented in May 2004. We demonstrate how a study of international trade can be used to assess relative levels of threat and set domestic research and conservation priorities. Australia has remarkably high syngnathid biodiversity with at least 14 seahorse species, two endemic sea dragon species, and 90 species of pipefishes and pipehorses found in its territorial waters. Our objectives were to quantify species, trade routes, volumes, values and temporal trends in syngnathid trade to and from Australia. We found that Australia is probably the major global supplier of dried pipehorses Solegnathus spp.. These fishes, including at least one endemic species, are sourced from trawl bycatch and comprise Australia's largest syngnathid export, by both volume and value. Research is urgently needed to evaluate the impacts and sustainability of trawling on pipehorse populations. Australia is also the sole supplier of two sea dragon species, Phycodurus eques and Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, for the live aquarium trade. Although lucrative, the number of wild-caught individuals involved in this trade was relatively low and probably of low conservation risk relative to habitat loss. Exports of seahorses and other pipefish species, and imports of all syngnathid species, are minor on a global scale, although the burgeoning aquaculture industry for seahorses requires careful evaluation for its potential impacts on wild populations.

(Published Online January 19 2006)
(Received July 20 2004)
(Revised January 14 2005)
(Accepted June 10 2005)
(January 19 2006)

Key Words: Aquaculture; aquarium; bycatch; exports; imports; pipefish; pipehorse; sea dragon; Syngnathidae; traditional medicine.

c1 Correspondence: Project Seahorse, Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Avenue Dr. Penfield, Montréal, Québec H3A 1B1, Canada. E-mail keith.martinsmith@utas.edu.au
p1 Current address: Project Seahorse, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 05, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
p2 Current address: Project Seahorse, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, 2204 Main Mall, Vancouver V6T 1Z4, Canada