Underwatertimes.com News Service - April 28, 2009 17:43 EST

The Solomon Islands controversial trade in wild-caught dolphins is to be subject to an in-depth review under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as decided by the CITES Animals Committee at its annual meeting last week in Geneva.

Evidence from leading cetacean experts in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Cetacean Specialist Group (CSG) reveals a lack of population data for bottlenose dolphins in the Solomon Islands. This led the specialists to conclude that it is impossible to determine that the export of bottlenose dolphins is not detrimental to the wild population - a CITES requirement. Despite these findings, the Solomon Islands exported 28 wild-caught dolphins in 2007 and 19 more to the Philippines this past winter.

The CSG's evidence was critical to the decision to place this dolphin trade into the CITES significant trade review process, a mechanism to ensure compliance with Convention. If the Solomon Islands is violating the rules, it will be given a chance to comply before trade sanctions could be implemented.

"This should be a wake-up call to the Solomon Islands' government that the sustainability of its controversial trade in wild-caught dolphins will now be under CITES scrutiny," says D.J. Schubert, Wildlife Biologist of the Animal Welfare Institute, who attended the CITES meeting. "The government is obligated to comply with the rules of CITES - rules that it has, to date, ignored. AWI encourages the government to suspend future live captures and exports of bottlenose dolphins, pending completion of the review process."

The Animals Committee also recommended that the Solomon Islands' government set a more cautious dolphin export quota. A total quota (including all causes of dolphin mortality and live captures) of ten bottlenose dolphins per year for up to four years as a precautionary standard until population surveys are completed was suggested by a CSG representative. Currently, the government has established an annual export quota of 100 wild-caught dolphins - a level of trade the CSG deemed unsustainable.

Though only a CITES member since June 2007, the Solomon Islands is quickly developing a rogue reputation. Its role in the illegal international trade of wild-harvested giant clams was also discussed at the Geneva meeting with the clams also being placed into the significant trade review process.