Tanvi Vaidyanathan/Project Seahorse

Tanvi Vaidyanathan/Project Seahorse

Researcher Tanvi Vaidyanathan (@TanviVaidyanath) is investigating the impact of an extraction and export ban on incidentally caught species, using seahorses in India as the case study.

India was one of the largest exporters of seahorses, till 2001, when all seahorses and pipefishes were included under Schedule I of India’s Wild Life Protection Act of 1972 (WLPA), preventing the catch and export of these species. Since then, little is known about the status of seahorse populations, distribution and about the livelihoods dependent on them.

Tanvi’s work explores how bans work for the conservation of incidentally caught marine species in the absence of a regulated fisheries, and alternative management options that might work better.

(Banner photo: Guylian Seahorses of the World)

Project details

With dwindling fish, most fishing gear rarely catch only target species, and fishers now catch anything that they can. Combating bycatch issues in the developing world remains a major challenge. Current fisheries measures are aimed towards directed fisheries, and declines in the wild populations of bycatch species often go unnoticed. In addition, governments often tend toward bans to conserve species, instead of sustainably managing their extraction.

My research aims to understand the impact of catch and export bans, using the case study of seahorses in India, in the absence of regulated bycatch fisheries on:
1.    the conservation of incidentally caught species,  and
2.    the livelihoods dependent on them.

In 2002, seahorses were included under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that calls for international trade to ensure that wild populations are not harmed. However, a number of parties that are signatories to CITES have considered the option of using trade bans to manage their trade at sustainable levels. There is a poor understanding of how these bans work for the conservation of bycatch species and the lessons learnt from India could be used to inform other parties that are considering export bans.

Why seahorses?
Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) are a charismatic bycatch genus that serve as flagship species for a wide range of marine conservation issues. The issues facing seahorses including overexploitation, by-catch and habitat degradation, are also major concerns for marine conservation.  Compared to most marine bycatch species, greater trade and landing data exists for seahorses. Seahorses were the first marine fishes to be listed on CITES Appendix II since its inception, which regulates export of these fish to ensure that wild populations are not damaged by international trade. In addition a high demand for them in traditional medicine (TM), aquarium trade and curios make them vulnerable to overexploitation. As a result, of the 41 species of seahorses found globally, many species have been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, while the rest are judged Data Deficient.

Images from the field


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