From the Ocean to the Shelves – The Global Demand for Dried Seahorses

Seahorses are often caught accidentally during fisheries and sold for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine as health remedies, yet their populations are in decline, with most species considered vulnerable or endangered.

Foster believes that stronger enforcement of trade bans and regular reports of confiscated shipments could help cut out the black market trade of seahorses.


Seahorses have long been used as folk remedies for back pain, skin issues and to enhance men’s sexual potency – though no scientific proof supports this use and experts do not advise it as an approach.

Seahorses are listed on CITES Appendix II, meaning countries must limit exports at levels that do not harm wild populations and verify they were caught legally. Unfortunately, many nations fail to abide by those rules, leading to underground trading activities due to their small size and shape being easy to transport across borders without trace – even suitcases! Hence enforcement becomes difficult.

Health Benefits

Seahorses are highly sought-after within Traditional Chinese Medicine markets, where their dried specimens are used to treat a range of maladies from infertility and erectile dysfunction to arthritis and high blood pressure. As a result, their demand is driving by non-selective fisheries around the globe who actively target seahorses for harvesting.


Seahorses can be found for sale across Asia, with Hong Kong being one of the biggest markets for dried seahorses – up to HK$2,000 per kilogram in some cases! Many countries that exported large volumes have since instituted export bans in accordance with CITES regulations designed for sustainable use; however, according to a recent UBC study most of these prohibitions are not being upheld.

Foster notes that although reported trade has decreased, smuggling and weak enforcement allow an underground industry to thrive. She wants governments to better manage fisheries – for example by reducing fleet sizes and closing large sections of ocean to trawlers – as well as ensure all dried seahorse shipments are checked for possible illegal smuggling activity. In addition, she wishes for increased attention paid to wild-caught seahorses’ health benefits in traditional Chinese medicine for treating conditions such as asthma, high cholesterol levels or arteriosclerosis.


Most seahorses are harvested and dried for traditional medicine use, though their bony exoskeletons often retain their shape after drying, making them perfect for carving into souvenirs and trinkets.

Even though most countries that harvest wild seahorses have banned them for sale or export, their trade continues to thrive. Seahorses are frequently routed through Hong Kong where rules are more lax to sidestep any export bans; or through Mexico’s international airport where Profepa has recorded numerous seizures of seahorses smuggled through.

Current signatories to CITES must limit exports of seahorses listed under Appendix II only at levels safe for their wild populations; yet global demand is driving their decline and could soon see seahorses disappear from Earth’s oceans altogether unless governments address this issue. “It is absolutely unacceptable that such wonderful creatures are being exploited for trinkets,” notes Foster.

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