US seizes seahorse shipment

A TASMANIAN shipment of seahorses bound for Florida has been seized by US customs officials in what the producer has called "government- sanctioned theft".

Seahorse Australia owner Craig Hawkins's shipment of 326 seahorses would have earned him $4500 but he will not see his money or his seahorses, after an Australian customs officer apparently neglected to record how many were being shipped.

Throughout the past week there have been ongoing representations from Australian Government departments to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to resolve the issue.

But on Friday night the load had to be surrendered, giving the US Government the ability to distribute the seahorses as it sees fit.

"The US requires us to have our shipment validated by customs, which we did, but there was a minor error from a customs official. He neglected to record the number of seahorses in the shipment," Mr Hawkins said.

"As soon as we found out there was a problem, he then tried to correct it. I understand he was ignored at the US end."

It was the Beauty Point producer's third shipment to the aquarium wholesaler in Florida and Mr Hawkins was concerned that he might lose the customer.

"This is just one sale at the moment but if we lose the customer it may be a significant loss to us."

He had been trying to break into the US market for several years and was told US customs had a reputation for being "unpredictable".

"I do really want to thank the Australian department officers though - they have been absolutely fantastic.

"The Wildlife Trade and Conservation section, the quarantine and inspection service and all of them," Mr Hawkins said.

"I can only say that the US officials were obnoxious and arrogant."