Clearing the Muddy Waters of Coral Suspensions
The situation regarding the importation of corals into the European Union has always been a somewhat confused one. Individual species have been discussed and added to the number of prohibited or suspended species following meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Scientific Review Group (SRG) over the years, but a simple overview has never been made widely and easily available. A list exists, but you need to know where to look for it—not an easy matter where EU documentation is concerned.
Yet this list is vitally important, both for exporting and EU importing countries. In particular, both exporters and importers need to know what species they can, or cannot, trade in. It is possible that this lack of detailed, accessible knowledge is at the root of a fair number of the seizures of consignments that have been made by EU authorities. Between 2007 and 2008, there were, for instance, four prosecutions in the U.K. alone related to coral seizures; between 2009 and 2010, the figure was 21; between 2011 and 2012, it was four; and for the period from 2013 to 2014 (the most recent one for which we have data), it was 18. The figures are inconsistent, but they don’t offer any sign that the situation is improving.
It is quite possible that companies might have attempted to export or import certain species without knowing exactly what the status of the species was. However, one can also argue that it is the responsibility of both exporters and importers to find out which species can be legally traded. This is undeniable, but, as long as the possibility for ambiguity exists, we are likely to remain stumbling in a less-than-satisfactory state of affairs that impedes the smooth flow of international trade.
The matter is not helped by the fact that some of the suspensions are straightforward ones (in the sense that they are listed as suspensions), while others are listed as being based on so-called negative opinions arrived at by the SRG. Then, to add a further element of confusion, suspensions may apply to imports of all types of specimens belonging to some species (wild caught), while, in other cases, the suspensions apply only to wild-caught specimens but not to maricultured ones, or to live or maricultured specimens attached to artificial substrates, or just to live specimens but not (by implication) dead ones, for example, coral skeletons.
As I mentioned earlier, the information exists-—it’s just a question of tracking it down. For example, most of the suspensions are based on Suspension Regulation No. 2015/736. However, in those instances where they are the result of SRG recommendations, one needs to consult the reports of the respective meetings of this group—for example, SRG17 in the case of the genus Euphyllia, SRG72 in the case of E. cristata, and so on.
I have always felt that this situation is less than helpful to any party in the coral supply chain, or to the authorities who have to police it. How does a border official distinguish between, say, Blastomussa merleti and B. wells?
As we await the seizure figures for the period between 2014 and 2016, as well as any new list of suspensions that might be being compiled, here is the full list of corals currently affected in an easy-to-manage, understandable format. This is not a list that I have put together, but the official one that already exists within the labyrinth of EU legislation.
The full text—Commission Implementing Regulation 2015/736 of 7 May 2015 prohibiting the introduction into the union of specimens of certain species of wild fauna and flora—may be accessed at EUR-Lex, an official website of European Union law and other public documents of the European Union.
CITES: An Overview
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
At the core are three Appendices:
Appendix I lists species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants. They are threatened with extinction and international trade in specimens of these species is prohibited, except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, e.g. for scientific research. The Convention, however, provides for a number of trade exemptions to this general prohibition.
Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. It also includes so-called “look-alike species,” i.e. species whose specimens in trade look like those of species listed for conservation reasons. International trade in specimens of Appendix-II species may be authorized by the granting of relevant permits.
Appendix III is a list of species included at the request of a party (CITES member country) that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade in specimens of species listed in this appendix is allowed on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates.
John Dawes is an international ornamental aquatic industry consultant. He has written and/or edited more than 50 books and has contributed more than 4,000 articles to hobby, trade and academic publications. He is the editor of the OFI Journal and a consultant to AquaRealm, the new trade show scheduled for June 2017 in Singapore.