Commercial fishing of seahorses will be banned within a month, said the Department of Fisheries’ deputy chief Umaporn Pimolbutr after the issue went viral on social media.
The proposed ban will be declared under Section 71 of the Emergency Decree on Fisheries 2015, and allow the Thai authorities to close loopholes used to capture wild seahorses for commercial gains or for fishing trawlers to stockpile incidental catches of seahorses to sell as an ingredient in Chinese medicine, she said. The ban - along with the plan to list seven species of seahorse as protected wildlife and the measures to increase the seahorse population in nature - would be presented to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to ensure Thailand would not again face trade barriers due to an illegal seahorse trade, Umaporn said. Trade in all species of seahorses is regulated under Appendix II of the CITES. Countries may issue export permits only if they can prove the trade isn't harmful to wild seahorse populations. Thailand, had previously allowed the export of 10-15 tonnes of seahorses primarily to China, and faced international suspicion over whether that included seahorses captured in the wild. Thailand was removed in 2016 from the CITES list of countries under review regarding trade in seahorses after the country agreed to suspend trading seahorses with other countries. However Umaporn said some people might have smuggled seahorses into Thailand along with other goods via the border checkpoints on the Thai-Myanmar, Thai-Vietnam and Thai-Laos borders as there was still a high demand for it among Chinese medicine shops. She also admitted to a loophole that allowed continuing trade in seahorses because they were not yet protected species. Authorities are waiting for sufficient academic backing before declaring protection for seven species of seahorse wildlife under the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act 1992. The focus species include: Great Seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi), Thorny Seahorse (Hippocampus histrix), Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti), and Common Seahorse (Hippocampus kuda). The issue of seahorse trading was brought into the limelight after the management of the Pattaya Floating Market earlier this week closed a shop that was found selling barbecued seahorses to foreign tourists, including those from China. On Monday, a photo of barbecued seahorses was posted by a Thai Facebook user with a question asking whether the product was legal, leading to an outcry from many other Facebook users. The photo showed that the shop was selling seahorses for Bt150 each. On Tuesday, Manas Meepong, managing director of the floating market, said he had ordered the shop to stop selling the seahorse and also cancelled its licence effective immediately. The shop was closed and a sign posted that it had been closed for violating the rules of the market.