translated from Spanish: Keys to understanding seahorse trafficking from Mexico to China

Seahorses (Hippocampus) are found in different categories of threat depending on the species. That is why their trade is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), that is, they can only be exported with special permits.
In Mexico, they are also listed as species Subject to Special Protection under the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection and the General Law of Wildlife. However, in this country the problem of traffic has escalated.
Why? these are the four keys to understanding the source of the problem.

An interested market
Mainland China is currently the largest consumer of seahorses with an estimated demand of 500 tons per year, according to the marine conservation organization Project Seahorse, dedicated to the conservation of this species.
The reason is because traditional Chinese medicine sees seahorses as a medicine. According to that tradition, consuming the crushed horses in soups or wines can help strengthen the kidney, balance Yin-Yang and treat male impotence and female infertility.
Dried horses in a Hong Kong shop where they can be easily found. Photo: HK1
Although some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine prescribe seahorses, Zhang Shiping, an associate professor at the School of Chinese Medicine at Hong Kong Baptist University, says it is not common in Hong Kong and mainland China. The problem, he says, is that people buy the seahorses themselves to prepare the medicines.

During the period 2001 to 2019, attempts were made to remove 95,589 seahorses from Mexico illegally, that is, without permission from the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa). Of these, 64% were destined for the Chinese cities of Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, while the rest went to local Mexican sale, according to a record prepared by Diálogo Chino from Profepa seizures delivered in a letter via the Transparency Law.
This photo was taken by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation (AFCD) and the press conference revealing the Customs smuggling case, on December 1, 2020. Those dried seahorses were smuggled into Hong Kong from Indonesia and confiscated by Hong Kong customs officials in November 2020. Photo: HK1
According to the database, there are 56 administrative files initiated by Profepa for these seizures and of this fifty, at least 36 were at the International Airport of Mexico City, the point with the greatest connectivity to international destinations.
The route
There are two routes for seahorse traffic from Mexico to mainland China. The first goes directly to Beijing and Shanghai and the second passes through Hong Kong.
Horses are trafficked by sea, air, parcel or mail, and often move between shipments of other dried seafood or in personal luggage, or by other hard-to-detect routes.
“Many horses are taken out by parcel, DHL and others,” explained Alicia Poot, a researcher at the National Fisheries Institute (Inapesca). “Only if the parcels know that it is illegal is it reported, but mostly they do not know that it is illegal,” he explained.
The prices of seahorses depend on the origin and size. Photo: HK1
According to Sarah Foster, author of the study Global Seahorse trade defies export bans under CITES action and national legislation, dried seahorses are very easy to move across borders.
“They are small and when dried, they hold up well for long periods of time,” explains the expert.
Weak sanctions
The current problem is that even though the seahorse is protected by national and international laws, explains Dr. Alvarado, an expert in environmental law, “the authorities are not stopping the traffic partly because of ineptitude, partly because of corruption. The result is an illegal trade that is increasing more and more.
Although in Mexico exporting these species without proper permits entails a penalty of up to nine years in prison, many lawsuits are resolved with an agreement for the punishment to be replaced by a fine.
Dried seahorses are very easy to move across borders. Photo: HK1
Israel Alvarado, former general director of Federal Crimes against the Environment and Litigation of Profepa, points out that this type of case almost always ends in this way – for any species – due to corruption or the lack of training and criteria of Profepa, the Public Ministry and judges.
“The judge is very likely not to have it as accredited because it seems too much to is hard for someone to go to jail for having turtle eggs or totoaba guts or horses,” the expert concluded.
This story was originally published in Mongabay Latam. Read the full story of this article here.
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Original source in Spanish

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