The Philippines, through the Department of Agriculture-National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (DA-NFRDI) with DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), in collaboration with Project Seahorse, hosted the Asia region workshop on implementing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) for seahorses on March 14-17, 2023 in Mactan, Cebu.

CITES is an international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the species’ survival. The Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP) is the decision-making body of the Convention, made up of all member states.

Participants were representatives of CITES and fisheries authorities from 10 member countries with significant historical roles as importers and exporters, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam as exporters; China, including Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan, Province of China, and Singapore as importers.

For the Philippines, Dr. Mudjekeewis Santos, Scientist IV and chief of the Training Division; and Francisco SB. Torres, Jr., co-project coordinator of the National Stock Assessment Program (NSAP) represented NFRDI in the workshop. They contributed to the development of a country document in the form of a presentation that serves as a situational analysis containing proposals for action to ensure seahorse export is legal in the Philippines and that does not damage wild populations.

The four-day event supports the Philippine 2016 seahorse action plan, focusing on four key aspects of CITES implementation: non-detriment findings (NDFs), legal acquisition findings (LAFs), monitoring in support of adaptive management, and enforcement.

All seahorses, 46 species to date with 10 species found in the Philippines, are listed in CITES Appendix II. This means that international trade can continue but must be managed to ensure it is sustainable, legal, and traceable.

As a way forward for the Philippines, DA-BFAR and Project Seahorse will develop a Memorandum of Agreement for the three-year Philippine Seahorse Program, including the conduct of NDF in Bohol as a pilot site using Napoleon wrasse NDF framework as a reference. In addition, NFRDI will provide scientific advice and technical assistance.

An NDF is a comprehensive scientific study that evaluates if a trade would adversely impact the survival of a particular species. It also assesses if a trade could allow species population to be sustained throughout its range at a level “consistent with its role in the ecosystems in which it occurs.”

Other participants were the CITES Secretariat and technical experts from each of the participating jurisdictions as well as from key non-government organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), and Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce (TRAFFIC). The activity was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States and the Principality of Monaco through the CITES Secretariat. ### (Cyrenes Moncawe)