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Will the Spanish Koi Sector Disappear?

Could Spain’s latest ruling lead to the collapse of its koi sector?

John Dawes

The common carp (Cyprinus carpio) has been present in Spanish waters since the Hapsburg Dynasty (16th to 17th century). It has such a long history that it has become widely regarded as a Spanish native species. In fact, its antiquity is such that, according to the self-governing community of Cataluña in northern Spain, it should be regarded as an autochthonous species. While this opinion has history on its side, it’s not based on technically correct criteria, because the species is not naturally native to Spain.

In sharp contrast to the historical arguments advanced by Cataluña, Carlos Fernández Delgado, a professor of zoology at Córdoba University, has successfully argued that it is “unjustifiable that species as harmful as the carp … have not been included in the Catalogue.” The catalog in question relates to species that are deemed exotic and invasive and pose major threats to native fauna and flora.

Spain’s Supreme Tribunal’s Court of Contentious Administrative Affairs has ruled to include the carp in the country’s catalog of exotic invasive species, a step that carries an automatic ban. Over the past few years, C. carpio (including, of course, koi) has been in the official listing of potentially invasive species, but not in the catalog. Inclusion in the listing does not carry with it any prohibitions, though it may demand some controls.

There are two very different perspectives regarding this fish. The view presented by Cataluña, while based on history and the current ubiquitous distribution of the species within Spain, was dismissed by the Supreme Tribunal. The other, from professor Delgado, is more scientifically based and, consequently, carried greater weight when it came to the final decision.

All parties agree that C. carpio can cause a great deal of environmental damage. If this weren’t the case, it would not feature in the list of the 100 most harmful exotic invasive species in the world. Yet the fact remains that the common carp is so widely established in Spain that there appears to be no practical way of controlling it. Australia currently is considering the release of a virus that selectively attacks and kills carp, so there might be a way forward, should there be a decision to implement an eradication program at some stage in the future.

Because the species now will be included in the catalog, possession, transportation and commercialization of both living and dead specimens or their remains, including their export, will be banned. Despite the stark nature of these requirements, they do little to clarify the situation with regard to koi, as only the common carp is mentioned. In the worst scenario, though, the ruling could lead to the end of the koi sector in Spain, at least in its current form.
Not surprisingly, various industry groups already are trying to find a workable solution to what easily could become a massive problem. Ornamental Fish International has offered to lend its weight to these discussions, but it is not yet clear how things will pan out.

While there is every reason to be concerned over the recent developments, no direct mention has yet been made regarding the koi sector, and although the document is aimed at C. carpio, the only nonscientific name used throughout is that of the common carp. Hopefully this indicates that the authorities will show some flexibility in discussing and evaluating the communications they are receiving from the trade.

We await further developments, especially because whatever decision Spain takes could have implications for other European Union member states where carp have been introduced throughout history. Countries in which the carp is an indigenous species will not be affected in any way.


John Dawes is a monthly contributor who writes the International Waters column Pet Product News.

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