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International Waters: Spain Modifies Catalog of Exotic Invasive Species

Posted: January 27, 2014, 12:25 p.m. EDT


By John Dawes

In November 2011, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a Royal Decree that included a list and catalog of the country’s invasive alien species. Listed species carried with them a "generic prohibition with regard to the possession, transport and commercialization of living or dead specimens, their remains or propagules (plant material for propagation purposes), including external trade.”

Practically overnight, it became illegal to sell, transport or own such species, which were deemed "susceptible” to become a serious threat through competition with autochtonous (native) species, their genetic purity or to ecological equilibria, or exhibit invasive potential.

At the time, I wrote "The Royal Decree is in its infancy … and it may well be that revisions will occur in due course” because there were some glaring anomalies within the listing and catalog that I believed needed urgent addressing.

This has now happened and, in August 2013, a new Royal Decree was issued by the Spanish authorities, and it has been in force for several months. I’ve been waiting since then for reaction from the trade; there hasn’t been a public negative reaction from the Spanish ornamental aquatic sector. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone is happy with all the species changes in the new document.

Elodea
Two Elodea species are now included in the catalog. John Dawes

The most immediately noticeable difference between the 2013 version and its predecessor is the scrapping of the listing. This is a welcome move because the original listing consisted of a huge list that raised more questions than it answered, such as why include guppies (Poecilia reticulata) in such a listing when their only Spanish population is in the thermal waters of a single spa resort? Equally, why include the silver barb (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii) when it is a truly tropical species that won’t survive Spanish winter temperatures, not even those experienced in the warmest regions of the country?

The listing has been replaced by a program of greater control and vigilance, with local authorities able to develop their own listings. The thinking behind this move seems to be the central government’s decision to bring more order to the management of such species, as some might be invasive in some parts of the country but not in others.

The catalog remains more or less the same but with a few important inclusions and revisions. The most surprising "nonmover” is the lionfish (Pterois volitans), which still remains in the catalog without it ever having been detected in Spanish waters. I remain as surprised at its standing in the catalog and on the flawed logic of retaining this species, while its closest relative, P. miles, which is the second Pterois species that has invaded western Atlantic coasts, is not included. If it seemed logical to the authorities to include P. volitans, based on the U.S. experience, it seems equally logical to include P. miles or, preferably, to exclude P. volitans from the catalog altogether.

The new catalog includes a number of additional species compared to the 2011 version. Among the 56 additions, several are relevant to the aquarium, pond and water gardening sectors. Notable among the plant inclusions are Crassula helmsii (the swamp stonecrop), already banned in some other European countries; Elodea nuttallii (the western or Nuttall’s waterweed), also banned in some other countries, along with all the other Elodea species; and Nymphaea mexicana (the yellow, banana or Mexican waterlily).

All these species were included in the 2011 listing but have now been elevated to catalog level.

The animals section now includes Melanoides tuberculatus (the Malayan livebearing snail), which, while not being a huge seller, has been present in the aquarium hobby since time immemorial, Misgurnus anguillicaudatus (the Japanese weather loach) and Scandinius erythrophthalmus (the common rudd), all of which were in the 2011 listing.

There’s also been a change to snakeheads (Channa spp). The earlier catalog included C. argus, C. marulius and C. micropeltes. The new one includes the whole Channa genus, so imports, sale, transport and ownership of all 34 Channa species are now prohibited. Interestingly, and, as in the case of P. volitans/miles mentioned above, none of the three species of Parachanna, which grow to similar sizes and have similar predatory habits as their close relatives, are included in the new catalog.

All in all, the new catalog does not include any major surprises (other than P. volitans); the majority of the additions consist of species that already have been under the spotlight since 2011. The one (welcome) surprise is the scrapping of the listing. We now await a further period of observation to see how the new law functions and the possibility of further revisions in 18 to 24 months’ time.

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