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International Waters: Corals and Seahorses Featured in CITES Seizures

Posted: October 15, 2013, 10:50 a.m. EDT


By John Dawes

Corals make up 4 percent of all international seizures of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)-listed organisms in the European Union, according to an overview document prepared by Traffic for the European Commission (EC) for the period of January to December 2012. The 2013 figures will be published sometime during 2014, and, like the 2012 data, will be "based on reports of significant seizures submitted by EU member states of the European Commission.”

Although 23 member states reported seizures for 2012, the statistics included in this overview document are based on reports submitted by 17 member states: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The reason for omitting data from the remaining countries that submitted reports (Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Romania and Sweden) is that these data were not submitted in quantitative form, or that the reports stated that no seizures had been made, or that the seizures reported were internal (reports of seizures for intra-European trade and trade internal to individual member states are generally not included in these overview documents).

Sea Horses
Two shipments of dead seahorses bound for China were reported as being intercepted in Europe in 2012, but there could have been more, as the reports relate only to "significant seizures.” John Dawes

The 17 countries whose data contributed to the document reported 967 seizures made at EU borders (airports, ports, land boundaries and postal centres). At 4 percent, coral seizures accounted for some 39 of the total. These consisted of 1,387 specimens weighing approximately 2,850 kg.

The complete breakdown of the seizure figures, according to commodities (products) is as follows: medicinal (42 percent); ivory (14 percent); live reptiles (10 percent); reptile bodies, parts and derivatives (8 percent); caviar (6 percent); mammal bodies, parts and derivatives (5 percent); corals (4 percent); bird bodies, parts and derivatives (3 percent); live plants (2 percent); invertebrate bodies, parts and derivatives (1 percent); live birds (1 percent); and other (4 percent).

In approximate descending order, the "main countries/territories of departure of illegal trade” with connections within the ornamental aquatic industry are China, the U.S., Hong Kong, Thailand, Italy, Peru, South Africa, India, Singapore and Spain, with the number of reports ranging from around 45 (China) to 5 or 6 (India, Singapore and Spain). However, there also are a large number of reports—around 160—that are globally categorized as "other,” so it’s unclear whether any of these apply to one or other of the individually listed countries.

A list of "selected seizures” provides very interesting reading. For instance, it includes a report of 2,578 dead seahorses exported from Peru, destined for China, transiting through the Netherlands and seized in February. Another dead seahorse shipment consisting of 500 specimens originated in Guinea, was also destined for China, and was seized in Belgium in August. Since the commodity categories given above do not include one specifically for fish, one must assume that these seizures fall under the other (4 percent) category.

With regard to the corals, a shipment of 723 kg originating in Vietnam and destined for the UK was seized in May, while another of 680 kg originating in Indonesia and destined for the Netherlands was seized in September. The largest of the three seizures included in the "selected list” section of the document was 1,371 kg of Acropora spp. from Fiji, destined for the UK and seized in November.

The document gives no information regarding the actual species or genera involved in either of the first two seizures, other than stating that they are "stony coral Scleractinia spp.,” which is of little help, because "Scleractinia” simply means "stony coral.” The Fiji seizure, though, is said to consist of "stony coral Acropora spp.” To what degree this is accurate is open to question.

As to the methods employed by the authorities to target illegal shipments, the document lists the submission of incorrect permits, intelligence, detection in personal luggage and the targeting of a particular consignment "based on risk assessment,” although it does not clarify what this means.

Finally, it’s interesting to note the countries that actually reported the seizures. In the case of the two shipments of dead seahorses bound for China, it was the Netherlands and Belgium—the transiting countries—that reported the seizures. In the case of the three coral shipments included in the selected list, the countries of destination—UK and the Netherlands—reported them.

The overview document simply states facts and figures and supplies information but makes no judgemental comments. This is as expected, bearing in mind that its purpose is to act as a briefing for the EC so that the data "can be shared with key trade partners of the EU and selected third countries, as deemed necessary by EU member states.”

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