New Regulations For Dwarf Seahorses
2016 will see wild Dwarf Seahorse Hippocampus zosterae gain new protections in the waters around Florida. These regulations are designed to limit their harvest from the wild in order to sustainably manage Dwarf Seahorse populations.
The proposed regulations:
- Recreational bag limit: reduce the current limit of five (5) of each species of seahorse (within the 20 organism aggregate bag limit for all Marine Life species) to five (5) seahorses total per person per day
- Commercial trip limit: reduce the current daily commercial limit from 400 dwarf seahorses to 200 per person or per vessel (whichever is less)
- Establish an annual commercial quota of 25,000 individual dwarf seahorses and provide for closure of the recreational and commercial seasons when the quota is projected to be met
- Establish an allowable harvest area ranging from Tarpon Springs on the Gulf coast, around the peninsula to Jupiter Inlet on the Atlantic and prohibit dwarf seahorse harvest year-round north of this allowable harvest area.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation staff have been working on creating this regulations over the past year. The commission met in November to discuss the regulations drafted. One piece, a seasonal closure was in the draft presented, but was removed at the meeting. The commission will meet again in February to finalize and pass the new regulations, with the regulations expected to go into effect shortly thereafter.
In the coming weeks, I will be looking closely at these regulations, the history of Dwarf Seahorse collecting, and in particular, taking a closer look at the Center For Biological Diversity’s petition. I’ve created a special page to house these articles. Please check back, or subscribe to FusedJaw.com email alerts.
Dwarf Seahorses and The Endangered Species Act
These rules are in response to a petition put forth in 2011 to protect Dwarf Seahorses under the Endangered Species act. The Center for Biological Diversity put forth this petition. Aquarists may recognize that name, they’ve been behind a number of ESA listings. Most recently in the news because their petition to list Percula clownfish Amphiprion percula under the ESA was rejected.
The petition for H. zosterae was initially met with skepticism from many corners of the aquarium world, myself included. But it raised valid concerns over whether or not this species should be looked at more closely. The petition has hung in limbo, and this may be in part due to these new regulations being drafted. I spoke with a representative with the Fish and Wildlife Commission that indicated they worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries in creating this regulations as an attempt to manage any concern over the conservation of Dwarf Seahorses.
The issue Dwarf Seahorses being listed under the Endangered Species Act has yet to be decided. These measures were designed to help answer any concern on the part of overfishing to prevent a blanket ban that an ESA listing would create.
How Will Florida’s Proposed Regulations Affect The Hobby?
The regulations are expected to go ahead as they were approved in the November meeting, with that determination being made during the February meeting. The regulation change has received relatively little attention in the hobby. It’s not clear what effects this will have for aquarists; as the current commercial harvest is less than the yearly proposed maximum harvest.
There is some precedence for what the change will look like. Trip limits for collecting Hippocampus zosterae were put in place in 2009. Prior to that, the commercial catch averaged about 44,000/yr 1992-2009. After that, the average was about 17,000/yr. The new regulations call for a quota of no more than 25,000 a year – and only one year, 2013 had a higher catch. It was 25,816 – in 2013. There was a noticeable drop in harvest. the number harvested – however their availability did not change for most people. I will be talking in a future article about why that might be and what we can take away from this.
A much bigger effect will be felt by recreational collectors. The geographical limitations means that recreational collectors in north and much of the eastern part of the state will no longer be able to collect locally. This regulation in particular seems like an unnecessary burden as there isn’t any suggestion that recreational collection is a large burden to this species. That does suggest to me that there are unfortunately not a large enough population to object to this change.
Share Your Feedback With Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The FWC is taking public comments on these regulation changes through to and at the February 2016 meeting. Both resident and nonresident comments will be taken into consideration, and can be made by attending commission meetings in person, or by contact the FWC, by phone, email, or snail mail, and I encourage others who have an opinion to share theirs: http://mygovhelp.info/FLFWC/_cs/site.aspx or http://myfwc.com/contact/fwc-staff/senior-staff/
I encourage everyone to take a close look at these changes and send their comments to the commission. My experience speaking with the FWC was very responsive to questions and concerns.