Sources of trade data

Unknown species of echinoderm (sea star) in an aquarium.

All species of giant clams and stony coral are listed in Appendix II of CITES, an international agree-_ ment that protects wildlife by ensuring that international trade is based on sustainable use and does not threaten the survival of a species in the wild. The treaty, established in 1973 and which entered into force in 1975, currently has 162 Member Parties. Species listed in Appendix II can be traded, provided an export permit accompanies shipments and a 'non-detriment finding' is made (i.e. the collection is not detrimental to the survival of the species).

Although one of the benefits of the Appendix II listing is that it allows for global trade to be monitored, there are a number of difficulties associated with implementing CITES in relation to the aquarium trade. Due to the complexities of coral identification, exports of corals need only be identified to genus level - under the provisions of the Convention, exports usually have to be identified to species level. Within one genus the abundance and distribution, and thus threat of overcollection (and that of other impacts), of individual coral species varies immensely. Hence, issuing CITES permits at genus level may lead to certain species being driven to extinction through overcollection7. Further limitations include differences in traded numbers between reported and actual exports, differences in units recorded (e.g. specimens and kilos), and confusion arising in cases where corals are imported and then re-exported without appropriate reference to the country of origin54. However, an expert group established in 2000 is to discuss and revise

listing requirements .

The EU has been fully implementing CITES since 1 January 1984. On 9 December 1996, it adopted Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 on the Protection of Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by Regulating Trade Therein (OJ L61 of 3/3/97) which entered into force on 1 June 1997. Commission Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 lists species on four Annexes™ :

□ Annex A: All CITES Appendix I species and some CITES Appendix II and III species, for which the EU has adop ted stricter domestic measures, as well as some non-CITES species.

□ Annex B: All other CITES Appendix II species, some CITES Appendix III species and some non-CITES species.

□ Annex C: CITES Appendix III species not listed in other Annexes.

□ Annex D: Some CITES Appendix III species for which the EU holds a reservation and some non-CITES species. Seahorses are listed under Annex D. Species listed on Annex D require an import notification, to be completed by the importer, upon entry into the EU. In theory, all imports of Annex D species should be recorded, but in practice it is likely that there are some discrepancies in the trade data.

Besides CITES, and for species not listed under the Convention's appendices, national governments routinely produce statistics, through customs or other officials with responsibility for monitoring trade, regarding the export or import of marine ornamentals, particularly fish. Unfortunately, the utility of these trade data may be limited as:

□ trade categories are rarely fully reported6, and

□ data are often aggregated so that marine fish are categorized as 'tropical fish' and combined with freshwater fish, in some cases even including invertebrates (e.g. starfish, sea cucumbers, marine molluscs) or other commodities under the same category8,26,53.

Even in cases where trade statistics are available through government sources, difficulties often arise because of the use of different units. Exports and imports tend to be registered by value (e.g. US Customs and imports to the nations of the EU) and/or weight rather than number of individuals. Import values are always higher than export values as the former include the costs of livestock and carriage as well as insurance and freight56 whereas for exports the value of the organisms is declared without packing, freight, tax or transport6. Trade statistics available as weight values include water and packaging, hence substantially overestimating the volume of live material, especially for fish and non-coral invertebrates. Moreover, trade data obtained through customs' statistics should be treated with caution as some operators have been known to overstate quantities on their invoices for insurance purposes8, or on other occasions understate quantities so as to reduce the amount of tax payable and keep annual shipments within the individual allowable quotas57. In Hong Kong, a study comparing information obtained from trade statistics with data collected through market surveys indicated that official declarations of imports are under-reported by at least two- to three-fold24.

In very few cases will countries report trade statistics in terms of the number of specimens exported. Singapore and the Maldives present exceptions to this, holding government records of the number of marine ornamental fish exported, showing a total of 1,294,200 fish being exported in 1998 for the former, and 262,641 in 1997, 182,916 in 1998, and 167,000 in 1999 for the latter6. Furthermore, in order to comply with governmental guidelines for obtaining a licence, collectors in Vanuatu, Tonga and the Solomon Islands are required to submit records of their exports, in terms of number of each species exported8. State governments in Australia are unique in that they require collectors to register catch data as opposed to export data41.

Thus, the available sources of data generally provide, at best, qualitative information and little reliable quantitative information on numbers, countries of origin and destinations of the main species in trade8.

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