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International Waters: Europe to Follow Spanish Apple Snail Lead?

Posted: June 26, 2012, 6:25 p.m., EDT


As many are aware, the banning of imports of several species of apple snails (Pomacea spp.) into Spain recently occurred, followed by the “release” of P. bridgesii (the spiketop apple snail) from this ban, quickly followed by the definite ban of all Pomacea species, including P. bridgesii, as a direct result of the whole genus being included in the Royal Decree on Spain’s invasive alien species published December, 2011. Since no grace period was provided, all apple snail imports into Spain came to an immediate stop, and this sector of the market has ceased to exist.

While Spain deliberated the issue and made a unilateral decision to ban imports, the European Commission (EC)--via its Plant Committee--also took a close look at apple snails. In March, the Committee asked the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Panel on Plant Health, “to deliver a statement to clarify the current scientific knowledge regarding the identity of the apple snails in the context of the evaluation of the pest risk analysis prepared by the Spanish Ministry of Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs.”

The EFSA Panel duly reported on the issue (EFSA Journal 2012:10 (4): 2645) on April 4. It concluded that, out of the 50 species in the genus Pomacea, only four belong to the P. canaliculata complex: P. canaliculata, P. insularum, P. lineata and P. maculata.

Apple Snail
By the time this item appears in print, the European Commission may have decided to ban imports of all apple snails—irrespective of species.John Dawes
However, with current identification methods rapidly evolving—and with species exhibiting so many similarities, as well as flexibility in morphology—the Panel indicated that there would be “high uncertainty if risk reduction options” were to be applied at single species level. They also concluded that “the available scientific evidence indicates that other Pomacea species may pose similar risks to plant health….”

The Panel said that risk reduction options “should not be targeted to single species of the genus Pomacea,” owing to the “dynamical situation in the current study on the systematics [of these snails], the uncertainties and the possible unexpected evolution of the invasive potential, the poor knowledge on the trophic [i.e., feeding] habits of many species [and the] high uncertainty on the identification of the different Pomacea species.”

In view of the above, it seems most likely that the EC’s Plant Committee will decide to adopt the findings of the Panel on Plant Health at its next meeting (which will have already taken place by the time this item appears in print). If so, it will follow the Spanish lead and will impose a Europe-wide ban on imports of all species of apple snail. Should this happen, the ban will be accompanied by the inevitable ambiguities that such blanket decisions bring with them, such as the question of the survival and reproductive potential of these snails, say, in the north of Scotland, as compared to the south of Italy, and so on.

Nothing has been decided at the time of writing, but European importers, as well as exporters of apple snails to Europe, would be well advised to prepare themselves for a total ban with no period of grace in the very near future.

Click here to continue reading this month's second International Waters column, Malaysian Koi and Goldfish EU Exports Could Resume—But Not Yet.

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