NOAA fisheries received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity to list the dwarf seahorse as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. A preliminary review of the available data suggests that Hippocampus zosterae could benefit from protections under the act. On November 18, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioners received a memo from Jessica McCawley, Director, Marine Fisheries Management proposing a draft rule on the dwarf seahorse. Due in part to the limited range of the dwarf seahorse, NOAA Fisheries has proposed rules that are listed below.
- 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 a statewide seasonal closure from July through September each year
- 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
- 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
The dwarf seahorse can be found mostly in peninsular Florida and in South Florida in particular. They are found especially in Florida Bay, but are also found in smaller numbers in certain areas of Texas and Mexico’s Gulf coast. While they are still collected on the wild, they are also widely captive bred for the aquarium hobby. A final public hearing on the petition and potential rule changes are expected to take place in February 2016. The National Marine Fisheries Service conducted a similar status review of the dwarf seahorse in 2012.