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Captive Breeding and Freshwater Stingrays at AC28


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Had one of the 28th Animals Committee proposals gone through, it could have resulted in it becoming necessary to ID mark captive-bred specimens of seahorses.

The 28th Animals Committee (AC) meeting held by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was held in Tel Aviv, Israel, Aug. 30-Sept. 3, 2015, and its recommendations already have been posted. Further discussions relating to these recommendations will take place at the next CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP17), which will be held in Johannesburg Sept. 24-Oct. 5, 2016.

Two topics of direct relevance to the ornamental aquatic sector were discussed in Tel Aviv:

• a proposal for a database of breeding facilities for Appendix II species

• the already longstanding proposal to list all species of freshwater stingray in one or other of the CITES Appendices

Had the first proposal been adopted, new licensing requirements would have been devised that would have resulted in all establishments that are involved in the captive breeding of Appendix II species, such as seahorses, to go through procedures similar to those that currently apply to the captive breeding of Appendix I species such as dragon fish.

Can you imagine having to mark small seahorses with identification? Not only would the procedure be complicated to carry out, but its implications with regard to the welfare of the seahorses don’t bear thinking about.

This could have included breeders having to submit documentation confirming the legal acquisition of broodstock. Further, the offspring from these breeding programs would have needed to be marked in such a way that their identity could be tracked. In the case of dragon fish, for example, every specimen is given a uniquely coded microchip, which is fitted through a subcutaneous injection into the dorsal muscle.

It is possible to see how this might have seemed a good idea to those who devised the proposal, but, this is one case where theory and practice bear little relation to each other. Can you imagine having to mark small seahorses with identification? Not only would the procedure be complicated to carry out, but its implications with regard to the welfare of the seahorses don’t bear thinking about.

Fortunately, the proposal was only backed by Mexico, with other parties pointing out that such a requirement was nothing more than a bureaucratic exercise of little conservation benefit. Even the World Wildlife Fund felt there was no need for such a database. The proposal was therefore removed from the final report.

However, as Svein Fosså, Ornamental Fish International’s representative at the meeting, said: “…there is once again a sense that there is a very strong desire from several parties to make captive breeding more complicated and subject to demands on documented legal acquisition of broodstock, somewhat in the spirit of the Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit-sharing. I do not think we have seen the end of these discussions.”

The South American freshwater stingray saga continues.

The issue regarding South American freshwater stingrays is sure to be raised again in the future. Listing all South American freshwater stingrays in one of the CITES Appendices was first raised at the 20th AC meeting held in Johannesburg March 29-April 2, 2004; no final decision is in the foreseeable future.

The latest document was presented by Colombia at the AC meeting, and there are important inconsistencies, some of which actually represent evidence that contradicts that included in the report. For example, while exports of Potamotrygon schroederi—the rosette or flower river ray—are said to be increasing, figures show that there actually is a downward trend in export figures, despite fluctuations. The same goes for other species.

Equally confusing is the relationship between export quotas and actual exports. The latest export quota for Colombia, for example, stands at 23,200 specimens per year. Yet combined total exports for all species for the years 1994-2012 only amount to between 2,000 and 3,000 specimens. Indeed, although export figures for individual years vary, they never have represented more than 15 to 20 percent of the legal quota.

Therefore, there appears to be little logic in proposing the block listing of South American freshwater stingrays in one or other of the Appendices. Such a listing appears to be of no value, either for the conservation of the species concerned, or for the already beleaguered ornamental fish sector of the region, which has had to compete over the past decade or so with Asian markets where freshwater stingrays now are being bred in considerable and increasing numbers.  

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