by Andrew Darby
(ENS) TASMANIA --
ground is being broken in controlling the trade of
wildlife as Australian authorities move to manage what is
said to be the world's first big seahorse farming venture.
The small and graceful 20 centimeter (8 inch) hippocampus
abdominalis, or big bellied seahorse, of southern
Australian waters is being farmed for the first time in
the island state of Tasmania, to be dried and later
powdered as Asian traditional medicine.
But after a challenge to export controls by the non-government Tasmanian Conservation Trust, the federal government's licensing agency, Environment Australia, is developing a means of detecting whether the dried animals are farm grown, or wild caught, by examining bone growth rings.
Working in sheds on a pier beside the Tamar River in Tasmania's north, Seahorse Aquaculture said that in the past year its 300 wild brood stock caught under permit had provided 40,000 of the seahorses.
Under guidance of a pioneering Australian aquaculturist, emeritus professor Nigel Forteath, the company has achieved a 96 percent survival rate. It plans production of one million animals annually.
The secrets to its success were close control of the growing tanks, and the animals' food, according to the company's director, Joff Love.
Love said the seahorse is highly regarded by traditional medicine users. "Because males bear the young -- the only animal in the world which does -- it is seen as the most 'yang' medicine possible. It is used to promote male sexuality. But in reality it is a liver and kidney cleanser."
Love said he has not tried the product. "I'd like to say I don't need it. Perhaps I should try it. But I'm not Chinese. I don't know how it would work."
The seahorse is regarded with affection by many Australian beachcombers and sea-life watchers. Love agreed that the thought of drying and crushing such a harmless creature made him squeamish.
"I feel terrible about it. The only way I can rationalize it is by saying I am saving wild animals. He believes the farmed animals will do much to replace rapidly depleting wild species from Asian waters."
But the Tasmanian Conservation Trust is asking for tight controls to safeguard domestic seahorses.
"We don't object to the industry," said trust director Michael Lynch. "But we do want to ensure the wild stock is protected. You don't allow a poaching industry to build up where someone can take from the wild and pass it off as cultured stock."
The trust has negotiated over the export license conditions to establish a certification system, and to require that a scientific marking system be imposed.
An official of Environment Australia said the agency is breaking new ground in tracking wild animals by proposing to analyse the growth rings of seahorse bones to discover whether they matured in the wild or domestically.
It is believed that the wild grown animals will show distinct growth rings as temperatures vary annually in their waters. But living in water of even temperatures, the farmed animals would be less likely to show the rings, the official said.
On March 29, the trust agreed at a mediation hearing not to object to a 30,000 animal trial to six different destinations, while the marking method is developed further.
March 29, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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