TED Case Studies

Seahorse Trade

          CASE NUMBER:        241


          CASE NAME:          Seahorse Trade


1.        The Issue

The seahorse is one of the most unique and mysterious animals on

the planet.  To the best of our knowledge it is the only animal

that has the male as the specialized caretaker of the young.  Aside

from the unusual parenting habits of the seahorse not much is known

about it's life.  What is known is that roughly 20 million live and

dead seahorses were traded legally internationally last year. 

Countless more were smuggled across the Taiwan Strait.  Great

Britain has just recently taken the lead in evaluating if the

seahorse, in its natural environment, can withstand trade at this


2.   Description

A recent study conducted by Amanda Vincent of Oxford University has

brought the case of the seahorse to international attention.  She

began studying seahorses in 1986.  

Amanda discovered the unique mating and reproduction process of the

seahorse, and the difficulty of trying to raise a colony on her

own.  She also uncovered a huge legal trade of seahorses, dead and

alive, which totaled roughly 20 million in 1993 alone.

Primarily the seahorses are used for medicines and aphrodisiacs in

Asia.  However, they are also coveted for aquariums, curios, and

food all around the world, including here in the United States. 

Even more devastating to the wild seahorse population is the

illegal trade that goes on across the Taiwan Strait every year. 

Seahorses are shipped in such large numbers that it is even

impossible to make an educated estimate of the quantity.

The seahorses are found in most coastal areas which have sea grass

beds, mangroves, or coral reefs.  Worldwide there are estimated to

be around 35 species.  Among the more populated areas for seahorses

are southern Australia and Tasmania, China, and the Philippines.

The Philippines, perhaps, have the most invested in the seahorse

trade, along with China.  Amanda Vincent found the following news

flash across an electronic bulletin board in 1990; "seahorses are

the most valuable fisheries export of the Philippines."  While in

China it is estimated that roughly 20 tons of seahorses, or about

6 million animals, were consumed in 1992.

Amanda Vincent sees a definite threat to the survival of seahorses

if trade continues at the current levels.  In her travels she

reports of stories of diminishing takes and smaller sized

seahorses.  The seahorses are also battling the gradual loss of

their habitat.  Blasting of coral reefs by aquarium-species

collectors and exporters are destroying the mangroves and sea grass


The loss of the seahorse from his natural habitat could also

disrupt the delicately balanced ecosystem.  The main meal for the

seahorse is shrimp, which they after gather as the swing by their

tails from blades of seagrass.  Despite their ability to change

their color to match their surroundings, seahorses are often meals

for penguins and crabs.  Their bony exterior, however, discourages

most fish.  The other natural enemy of the seahorse is the weather. 

Often a storm may cast seahorses adrift and they die of exhaustion.

There has been, in the past two to three years, the initiation of

studies into the seahorse trade.  At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992

a key convention was proposed and finally ratified in Great Britain

in 1994.  The Bidiversity Convention lays out the framework for

international action to protect species, habitats and ecosystems. 

As a part of this convention a study of the possible commercial

breeding of seahorses for Chinese medicine is to be funded by the

Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species.  The goal of this

study is to determine if the natural seahorse population can

withstand exploitation.

On the other side of the world there is an official trade ban on

any produce from China to Taiwan.  Unfortunately the illegal trade

across the Taiwan Strait is flourishing and seahorses are a common

commodity.  Not only do individual fishing boats carry illegal

cargo to the island nation but the local businessmen consistently

do business through there party nations, such as Hong Kong.  China

is the largest consumers of seahorses, mainly for the medicine

trade.  Seahorses have been used in China for centuries as an

ingredient for medicines, aphrodisiacs, and as a delicacy for

dinner.  The Chinese believe that seahorses can help sure

everything from asthma to impotence.

In Australia and the surrounding nations seahorses are used for

tourist merchandise, such as key chains and souvenirs.  In the

United States both live and dried seahorses are imported, mainly

from the Philippines, for aquariums and for use in China towns.

3.   Related Cases

     FROGS case

     CORAL case

     TOBAGO case

     PHILWOOD case

     MANGROVE case

     THAISHMP case

Rene Pare in the Netherlands maintains a Seahorse Web Site Keyword Clusters (1): Trade Product = SEAHORSE (2): Bio-geography = OCEAN (3): Environmental Problem = Species Loss Sea [SPLS] 5. Draft Author: Elizabeth W. Doering B. LEGAL CLUSTER 6. Discourse and Status: DISagree and ALLEGE 7. Forum and Scope: UK and MANY 8. Decision Breath: 20 9. Legal Standing: TREATY There is currently legal trade of seahorses and the only organization actively studying the seahorses is the Darwin Survival of Species program on the Biodiversity Convention. Most of the nations who were represented at the Rio Earth Summit agreed that there should be studies conducted on the seahorse population but there is not as much agreement as to what, if any, limitation should be put on the animal. Naturally, the nations who benefit from a booming seahorse trade have interests in keeping the trade unrestricted. These nations would probably include China, the Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong, Tasmania, and Singapore. D. GEOGRAPHIC FILTERS 10. Geography a. Geographic Domain: Global b. Geographic Site: Global. c. Geographic Impact: Global. 11. Sub-National Factors: NO Taiwan has an official ban of any product from a communist nation but is unable to control the illegal trade into the island. Seahorses are traded legally everywhere else in the world. 12. Type of Habitat: OCEAN D. TRADE FILTERS 13. Type of Measure: Impoprt Ban [IMBAN] 14. Direct vs. Indirect Impacts: DIRect 15. Relation of Measure to Impact a. Directly Related to Product: Yes, Seahorses b. Indirectly Related to Product: No c. Not Related to Product: no. d. Related to Process: Species Loss Sea [SPLS] 16. Trade Product Identification: SEAHORse 17. Economic Data - 20 Million seahorses traded legally per hear, worldwide. - 20 tons, or 6 million seahorses consumed in China in 1992. - 200,000 seahorses imported into the United States for aquariums from the Philippines in 1987. - 5.66 million UK Pounds provided by Rio Summit Convention for the research and conservation of threatened species. - In Hong Kong chemist's shops one dried kilogram of seahorse brings $1,200. 18. Degree of Competitive Impact: HIGH 19. Industry Sector: FOOD 20. Exporter and Importer: PHILippines and CHINA Exporters of seahorse include: Australia, China, Tasmania, Philippines, Belize, Brazil, Indonesia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Singapore, Tanzania, Thailand, United Arab Emeritus, United States, Vietnam. Thailand is actually the world's largest exporter. Importers include: China, United States, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, S. Korea. E. ENVIRONMENT CLUSTERS 21. Environment Problem Type: Species Loss Sea [SPLS] The studies just initiated are to try to determine if the natural seahorse population can withstand the estimated 20 million per year at current trade levels.(1) It is feared that the seahorse population is not able to sustain this level and the animals may eventually become extinct. 22. Species Information SPECIES: Seahorse GENERA: Hippocampus DIVERSITY: NA Seahorses comprise 35 known species. There have currently been 35 different species identified during the seahorse studies. However, since little is known about these unique animals it is certainly possible that there are species that have yet to be discovered. 23. Impact and Effect: HIGH and PRODuct The seahorse trade produces a negative product effect since it concerns the survival of the product being traded. If the supply, and thus the trade, of seahorses were to decline significantly then it would effect both consuming and producing nations, especialy nations such as the Philippines who depend heavily on their seahorse trade. 24. Urgency and Lifetime: HIGH and 1 year 25. Substitutes: LIKE It is probable that if the seahorse trade were to decline many nations could substitute another similar fish for tourist or aquarium uses. The most difficult use to substitute for would be the medicinal uses in China. Because Chinese medicine practices go back 400 years or more they would probably not take too easily to the idea of substitutes. 26. Culture: NO However, seahorse is an ingredient in potions intended to cure astma, arteriosclerosis, broken bones, goiter, impotence, phlegm, psoriasis, and general health. 27. Trans-Boundry Issues: NO 28. Relevant Literature Paul Brown, "Grant for Seahorse Study," The Guardian, 29 March, 1994. Economist, "Don't Eat the Seahorses," 30 September, 1995, 98. Jane McCartney, "Illicit Taiwan-China Trade Booming," United Press International, 21 July, 1985. "Trade Best for Protecting Environment, Says Major," The Press Association Limited, 3 June, 1994. References 1. Economist, "Don't Eat the Seahorses," September 30, 1995, 98.

Go to Super Page 1/11/97