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International Waters: CITES Considers Listing Stingrays

Posted: Feb. 13, 2013, 4:05 p.m. EST

By John Dawes

South American freshwater stingrays are under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) spotlight again. This time, there are two proposals, one from Colombia and the other from Colombia and Ecuador, for three species to be listed in Appendix II at the next CITES Conference of the Parties (COP 16) scheduled for March 3-14, 2013, in Bangkok, Thailand.

Should these moves be approved, international trade in the Ceja river, discus or manzana stingray (Paratrygon aiereba*), the ocellated or motoro stingray (Potamotrygon motoro) and the rosette river stingray (P. schroederi) will be subjected to strict control. The Appendix II listing does not prohibit trade, although individual CITES parties (countries) can impose such measures unilaterally. Nonetheless, with export quotas already set, the future of the stingray wild-caught trade could be in for a bumpy ride.

Captive-bred stingrays: The bottom fish is Potamotrygon motoro. The one resting on it is a P. motoro x P. leopoldi hybrid. John Dawes
Colombia argues that, although the World Conservation Union (IUCN) officially lists the discus stingray as data deficient (DD), the “extinction risk for freshwater fish in Colombia...classifies the discus ray as a threatened species in the (VU) vulnerable category.” The species is exploited “for its meat and as an ornamental species.” When one looks at the quoted export figures for ornamental species, only 216 specimens were reported as exported between 2007 and 2011, while a separate figure of 149 is given for 2009.

Though these figures are hardly excessive, it appears that the ornamental aquatic sector would be penalized with regard to trade in this species because of the activities of other sectors. This, of course, is nothing new to us.

The proposal is that this species be listed in Appendix II, but that the inclusion “be delayed by 18 months to enable parties to resolve the related technical and administrative issues.”

Turning to P. motoro and P. schroederi, Colombia and Ecuador similarly propose the 18-month delay. As with the discus stingray, the IUCN categorizes both of these species as DD. However, both have been classified as “endangered species, in the category of VU” in Colombian waters.

It is reported that, between 2007 and 2011, 7,954 specimens of P. schroederi and 19,459 specimens of P. motoro were collected in Colombian waters. Further reports state that 81,109 specimens of P. motoro were exported from Colombia between 1999 and 2009. However, no details are provided regarding the breakdown of these figures into food consumption, commercial aquaria, public aquaria or ornamental categories.

At press time, meetings and data collection were under way within the ornamental aquatic industry to establish reliable statistics on export, import and the captive breeding of freshwater stingrays within the trade. With regard to the last of these, the Colombian/Ecuador document states: “There is undocumented information indicating that P. schroederi is bred in Southeast Asia…as is P. motoro. It is even reported that there are populations established in the wild in Singapore.”

Interestingly, the term “undocumented information” is used when it is common knowledge that freshwater stingrays have been bred in captivity in several Asian countries for many years now, resulting even in hybrids and the so-called “bat” stingray. In fact, so many stingrays appear to be bred in captivity these days (but not, apparently, in the countries of origin) that it is quite possible that world demand could be met—and at competitive prices—by off-site establishments.

Should the CITES proposals be approved, the losers could be the collectors in countries of origin, who would need to compete with the highly organized Asian commercial breeders. These already have the means and infrastructure in place (including experience in CITES documentation procedures and know-how) to take on the mantle of sole suppliers of legal, fully documented freshwater stingrays to the trade.

The next few months undoubtedly will prove very interesting for this high-profile sector.

The discus ray is listed as P. aiereba in the Colombian CITES proposals. However, FishBase ( —regarded as the most up-to-date online reference—lists it as P. ajereba.

• The Colombian document places the family to which the three stingray species belong (Potamotrygonidae) within the order Myliobatiformes. However, the classification usually recognized worldwide places them within the order Rajiformes (skates and rays).

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