Many people are drawn to the odd beauty of seahorses, purchasing them through the mail for home aquariums. More than 20 million seahorses are harvested annually to be used in traditional Chinese medicine as treatment for kidney ailments, circulatory problems and impotence. But these and other commercial practices are decimating the local seahorse population, leading New York State lawmakers to pass a ban on commercial seahorse fishing.
“The seahorse is kind of analogous to Bambi,” said state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who sponsored the bill. “The general public not knowing anything about seahorses think what a cute little thing. We certainly don’t want people harvesting and taking advantage of it for commercial purposes.”
The Northern Seahorse, or Lined Seahorse is a large species of seahorse, growing up to five-inches long. During the warmer months, it can be found in the Great South Bay and Moriches Bay where they thrive in a nourishing habitat of lush eelgrass beds. Because the seahorse moves slowly and has a prehensile tail that it uses to hold onto vegetation, it can be easily caught by seine nets that sweep through the water.
The ban was inspired by an environmental forum that he conducts annually in January. “Three years ago someone came in and said that there was a problem with sea horses that are endangered,” continued LaValle. “So this legislation was born to protect them.”
According to TRAFFIC, a global wildlife trade monitoring group, “more than 20 million seahorses are collected each year, causing some seahorse populations to crash by 50 percent over the last five years.”
“Whenever you change the balance in nature, you are affecting things,” added LaValle. “It is very difficult to keep them alive out of their environments.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not return calls for comment on whether he intends to sign the bill, which passed the state Senate last week and the Assembly last month.