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International Waters: CITES Animals Committee Discusses Stingrays, Batiks and Corals

Posted: July 18, 2014, 10:50 a.m. EDT


The CITES Animals Committee findings on corals won’t be released until 2015.

By John Dawes

Although the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties (CoP 17) will not be held until 2016, work that was tabled to begin following CoP 16 is already underway via the CITES Animals Committee (AC).

The 27th meeting of the AC was held in Veracruz, Mexico, between April 26 and May 3, 2014. Among the many topics discussed, three were of particular interest to the ornamental aquatic industry:

  • South American freshwater stingrays 
  • Scleropages inscriptus—the batik arowana
  • Coral identification

 

In the end, no final decisions were made in regard to establishing definite proposals to be put to the next CoP, except for S. inscriptus. However, it is expected that proposals will be finalized at the next AC meeting (AC 28) due to be held in 2015, a year before CoP 17.

The situation regarding freshwater stingrays remains undecided, even after more than a decade of discussions. In a past report on these fish, I referred to the small numbers involved in the ornamental aquatic sector, ranging from 54 to 8,110 specimens exported per year, depending on species. I also cited a lack of concrete data.

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As a result of the discussions that took place at the time (March 2013), the CITES AC was requested to set up a working group to collect and assess data on the species concerned, so that a proposal could be prepared in time for CoP 17. However, it appears that progress has been slower than expected and that the necessary data are not yet available, with only two countries—Brazil and Colombia—providing any figures to date. It has therefore been decided that the working group will meet before the next AC meeting due to be held next year. These intersessional discussions will be held at two meetings—one in October this year and the other a month later.

Because significant differences between range countries still exist—some believe wild collections should be retained, while others believe that the whole family Potamotrygonidae should be listed—this story still has a long way to go.

With regard to S. inscriptus—the batik arowana—the situation is considerably clearer. This new species of dragon fish/arowana was described as recently as 2012. It originates in the Tananthayi River basin in peninsular Myanmar, from where it derives one of its common names, the Myanmar arowana.

Apparently, collection and export of the species from the wild is prohibited by the Myanmar authorities and is punishable by death.

Unsurprisingly, there are few batiks in the hobby and none available commercially. Before this happens and this beautifully marked species joins the likes of its close relative, S. formosus, either Myanmar law must change or captive breeding projects like those for S. formosus, resulting in certified legally bred specimens, need to be established. In the meantime, trade in S. inscriptus and its hybrids will be banned.

The CITES Nomenclature Working Group has accepted it as a valid species, thus separating it from S. formosus, a decision that will lead to it being listed separately in Appendix I. Although undoubtedly the species eventually will end up being bred in commercial quantities in captivity, one can’t assume that it will be treated in the same way as its famous relative.

It seems inevitable that captive-bred specimens will become available at some stage and that the special Appendix I criteria for certified captive-bred specimens will be applied in a similar way to S. formosus.

On the coral issue, the AC has been requested to review the list of coral genera that may be traded without having to be identified down to species level. However, no working group has been set up to deal with this. Instead, the AC member from Asia (Indonesia) and the CITES Nomenclature Specialists (from Germany) were given the responsibility for drawing up the relevant proposals.

Although some discussion took place at the AC 27, the matter is now tabled for AC 28. So, as things stand, no document was presented at AC 27 and no decision has been taken. We’ll need to wait until next year to find out more about this complex issue.   

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