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Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

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  • Offline TamiW
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Sorry it's so late, but here is a topic I'd like to offer up ideas for. What can we as individuals do to help seahorses in the wild? The obvious is not purchasing wild caught seahorses, or dried seahorses. But what else? Seahorse bycatch from trawling is a huge problem, so avoiding seafood captured by trawling is a start. Monterey Bay has their Seafood Watch resource, which is a great place to learn about sustainable seafood in general...

But what else is there?
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  • Offline DanU
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Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #1 posted: 5 years ago »
I am not convinced that all seahorses are endangered.  Granted there are areas where they are over fished especially for the oriental markets and some of the same were probably caught for the trade.  There is no indication that they are endangered here in the US and for that matter in many other places.  Simply not enough data.  In many of these places I would argue it is more important to protect the habitat than try to protect individual species.  For example, along the Florida coast, the estuaries and grass flats are the breeding grounds for many species, including some of the game fish found in the deeper waters.  Coastal construction, pollution and fresh water run off are the biggest threat.  We as a society have changed.  I remember as a kid, most folks did not want to live directly on the water as it was considered risky considering storms.  Today, everyone wants right on the water with docks.  As a kid, we had miles of shoreline undeveloped.  Hard to find down here now and in many other places. 

I do understand there are some species (such as H. capensis) and some areas where populations are not only threatened but endangered.  This is not the case for all species or locations.  We do have some protective measures in place in the US.  It varies by state.  In Florida, the measures put in place where at the request of the collectors.  They wanted to protect their livelihood from being over fished.  Australia protects many species besides seahorses but does not consider them endangered. Other places such as the UK, places in Europe and Africa have measures in place.  As I see it, the main culprits are the ones that don't even recognize CITES.

As a consumer I don't think there is much we can do that isn't already being done.  Buying captive bred makes sense not just from a conservation point of view but economically.  For the US market, except for H. erectus and H. zosterae, it is more expensive to buy WC.  As for buying only from certain places that avoid certain methods, I don't see enough people that care enough to make a difference.  For us hobbyists, it might make us feel good about where and what we buy but the majority of people will buy what ever is the cheapest product.  Kinda like shipping charges when folks buy online.  Often they go with the company with the cheapest shipping charges and don't take other things into consideration.

The biggest impact on conservation I think is going to be price.  When the captive market is cheaper than the WC market, that is where folks will buy from.  The average Joe Smoe will buy based on price with little consideration for anything else.  This is very evident in the H. zosterae market.  This is true with other species beside seahorses.  As the prices of WC go up, the opportunity for more commercial breeding begins to kick in.   

Dan
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  • Offline TamiW
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Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #2 posted: 5 years ago »
I don't disagree with you on that seahorses aren't endangered (with the exceptions you mentioned) but I do think that in general they're heading down a bad path, especially in those areas where they are used and therefore overfish. My feeling is that it is like much of the ocean; overfishing and collapse of fisheries is a real threat even if it won't completely wipe a species off the map. And climate change is going to cause a bunch of problems - both from species moving into new territories and hybridizing, as well as habitat change from changing sealife. Maybe all the seahorses won't be lost, hell, it probably won't all be lost. But even losing one species would be a shame.

The problem that conservation groups are starting to see bubble to the surface is that a lot of countries partake in the CITES regulation aren't really actively enforcing it. For instance, China is actually a CITES member and didn't opt out for seahorses, but they clearly don't do much about it. But other countries supplying east Asia aren't doing much either. See the research on H. algiricus in 2012.

I do think we as aquarists are actually doing some good just being aquarists. I think that seahorse keepers more than any other saltwater fish keeper, are likely to at least get a little involved in breeding efforts. And that's huge. It helps keep wild caught seahorses out of aquariums, but also tunes a lot of aquarists into the idea of captive breeding as a thing. In fact, I'd argue in general, seahorse keepers know more about the issues facing wild fish and over-collection and the importance of hardy, captive bred fish. Maybe some day it would be worth while to do a poll of seahorse keepers and non-seahorse keepers and see who buys a larger percentage captive bred non-seahorse fish. My gut is that it's seahorse people.
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Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #3 posted: 5 years ago »
For me its not necessarily the impact that this has on the population but more the dismal record that wild caughts seem to have in the aquarium.  The horror stories that people have tend to lead most to believe that seahorses are hard to keep, which is actually quite far from the truth (as long as you do your research).

As for buying only from certain places that avoid certain methods, I don't see enough people that care enough to make a difference. 
And this, of course, plays a big big part.
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  • Offline DanU
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Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #4 posted: 5 years ago »
I was referring to seafood in general with the general populace.  Seahorse folks can have some impact on vendors, more so now that there are less vendors and current market conditions.

Dan
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  • Offline TamiW
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Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #5 posted: 5 years ago »
I agree about the general populace,  but I also think that you have to start somewhere.  Look at home lighting.  The shift to more efficient lighting started as first an educational out reach,  and then a consumer demand.  Now there is legislation,  but that's only after widespread adoption by manufacturers and consumers. At least for me,  it's important I try to buy sustainably sourced food.  It may Only be a drop in the bucket.  But every little bit helps.  More importantly,  I doubt my contribution does much,  but it might help encourage others,  and if a lot of people are asking for it,  it will encourage grocers to carry it.
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Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #6 posted: 4 years ago »
I think education is the first thing.  A lot of people don't understand the importance of beauty of these creatures. Educating others is the first step to expecting them to care and do something about it.

Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #7 posted: 4 years ago »
You nailed it; education is crucial. People have the mentality, out of sight, out of mind. My sister is a marine biologist and our whole family has always been extremely involved with marine life (my dad is from Newfoundland, Canada). People are not aware of what is going on; shark finning is a massive issue in which I bring the publics attention to. I suggest everyone watch, Shark Water. We need to raise awareness regarding what is going on off shore. Sea horses tend to be affected not only be trawling, but long line fishing as well. These methods need to be eliminated.

Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #8 posted: 4 years ago »
Greetings from Amsterdam,

Lately I have been seeing an influx of people keeping wild caught base on price. The really sad part is seeing them replaced soon after the first one died.

Kind Regards,

Tim
  • Offline JLynn
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Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #9 posted: 4 years ago »
I don't know whether or not this is necessarily feasible, per se, but the apparently large seahorse bycatches... Why couldn't we do some sort of rehabilitation program for them like people do with turtles? I mean, unless they are dead by the time they reach the shore, couldn't there be some sort of program put in place where these seahorses are separated from the rest of the bycatch (which I assume goes into the trash under normal circumstances) and put into quarantine tanks where they are given time to recover from their ordeal before being released back into the wild? For that matter, it could probably be done for the rest of the bycatch, as well. I think that our fisheries would be much, much more sustainable if some program like this was implemented.

But, again, I am not sure if this is feasible or not. Just something to think about, I suppose.
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  • Offline TamiW
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Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #10 posted: 4 years ago »
Unfortunately, I think that's part of the problem. Many are going to be dead. Those that aren't are pretty beat up. And beyond that, there is a cost to trying to save them. Usually hauls from fishing are hand sorted very quickly between what's good and what's bad. The bad pile is often "waste". Some of it can be resold/reused. If they were to separate out seahorses while they're still alive and able to be returned to the sea, they would incur an additional cost, and that's unfortunately not going to be on the mind of most shrimpers.

There are other complicating issues. Seahorses are very prone to diseases in captivity, so any damage from shrimp nets would be very difficult to treat; I'm not sure if it would even be possible for them to survive. A much better alternative would be to release right away, but I don't think the sorting goes fast enough to protect most of the bycatch. This video give some insight into how shrimp are sorted. You can see the fish and other unwanted bycatch being dumped overboard into the waiting maws of pelicans and other sea birds. Many/most are dead.

That, of course is in areas where seahorses don't have much value. Other countries they're often saved and dried for sale. They might not have been fished otherwise, but unfortunately once they are, they're put to use. There was a report recently about Hippocampus algiricus in west african countries being part of bycatch from other fisheries, but they were kept and resold once dried because they added a little to the modest incomes of poor fishers.

For larger animals, many nets have escape mechanisms like turtle "excluders". Seahorses have the misfortune of being just about the right size to go right into shrimp nets, and inhabit much of the same habitat.
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Re: Friday Topic: What can YOU do to help seahorses

« Reply #11 posted: 3 years ago »
Me personally, probably not much more than I already do.

As someone coming back to marine tanks after a decade or so away from them, I still think one of the biggest advances will come from the development of sustainable, easily bred and accessible food.  I mean how many of you have live cultures going that doesn't require a significant investment in time? Marine species for a large part are weened on to an essentially unnatural food source to them due to the lack of alternatives. On the freshwater side of the fence, there's a lot of fairly easily and accessible cultures that you can dump in a tub and largely forget for days without it crashing,  the very common flake food or the feeder fish (usually live bearers who breed at a very rapid rate). The development of a sustainable easily bred and accessible food source means the cost of keeping seahorses drops, the cost of raising seahorses drops which means more attempts at breeding, more success at breeding, more seahorses available, cost of seahorses drop, less need for WC except when introducing new species.