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International Waters: England Adopts New Non-Native Fish Species Rules

Posted: April 17, 2014, 9:45 a.m. EDT

By John Dawes

Unlike some countries that possess Positive/Approved/White Lists of species that can be legally imported for home aquaria and ponds, England has traditionally had quite a different approach. Up until now, the list has consisted of species that, for one reason or another, cannot be imported, or only can be imported under certain strict conditions.

All that changed on Feb. 17 with the implementation of new legislation, the Prohibition of Keeping and Release of Live Fish (Specified Species) (England) Order 2014. The latest controls have been put in place to provide greater protection from potentially invasive species for native flora and fauna.

The new legislation contains an extensive list of freshwater species (well, genera, with selected species mentioned in relevant instances—see below) that may be imported, sold and kept for ornamental or research purposes. The aim of the 2014 Order is "to enable these industries to operate with a wide range of freshwater fish species, where those fish are kept under appropriate conditions.”

The list is not perfect, but it certainly is workable, significantly thanks to the efforts of the U.K.’s very active, influential and well-informed Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA), with input from Ornamental Fish International and, most especially, the open and receptive attitude of the U.K.’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Over the years, OATA has developed the sort of relationship with U.K. authorities that is the envy of the vast majority (if not all) of other ornamental-fish-associated countries.

Gold Fish
Goldfish and koi can be imported on a general, rather than an individual, license. John Dawes

This is reflected in the nature and content of the new lists and associated license requirements. For example, from now on, an individual license will not be required for the common carp and its variants, such as koi (Cyprinus carpio), goldfish and its variants (Carassius auratus), ide or orfe, including the golden and other variants (Leuciscus idus) and a few other types not regarded as ornamentals. For all of these, a general license will suffice.

General licenses also are now valid for the keeping of the listed species designed for "indoor aquaria and kept for ornamental (including trade, hobbyists, zoos and public aquaria), scientific research or conservation purposes.” Similarly, a general license will be valid for the "keeping of sturgeon (of the genera Acipenser and Huso) and/or grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella) in ornamental wholesale or retail premises or indoor aquaria or garden ponds.”

Turning to the lists of approved genera (and species), these are presented alphabetically in two formats:
•listed at order level, plus families and genera, as a single (Excel) worksheet;
•listed at genus level on separate worksheets (one per letter of the alphabet).

The first worksheet consists of 1,287 entries at genus level. Their families and orders also are listed. There is an additional column for special conditions. For example, under the weather loach (Misgurnus), we are told that only M. anguillicaudatus and M. mizolepis) may be kept, while under the mosquito fish (Gambusia), we are informed that all species are approved, except G. affinis and G. holbrooki.

The second batch of worksheets applies the same "only”/"except” principle.

It is here where individual weaknesses arise, despite the list of genera being very extensive. There is, for example, a species of goodeid that is popular among specialist tropical aquariumkeepers both in the U.K. and abroad. It was, in fact, the very first goodeid that made it into the hobby in the 1970s. I’m talking about the butterfly goodeid (Ameca splendens). According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), this species is now considered to be extinct in the wild. However, the species was last assessed in 1996, i.e., 18 years ago, and, according to the IUCN, its status needs updating.

But, even if the species continues to be extinct in the wild, it is being bred in captivity and stocks are regularly available. So how are we to interpret its omission from the permitted list? Does this mean that it is illegal to own or sell A. splendens? If so, what justifiable reason is there for such conditions to apply? Sticking with the goodeids, the following genera also are excluded: Alloophorus, Ataeniobius, Chapalichthys and Empetrichthys, which together contain 9 species.

I’ve only mentioned the representatives from the family Goodeidae (which is a relatively small family containing just 18 genera). Apply the same scrutiny to other, far larger families, such as the Cyprinidae, and it would seem reasonable to assume that there will be similar anomalies.

There also are unclear entries here and there. Why, for example, does the entry for the approved Cyprinella lutrensis (the red shiner) appear in red while that for the other equally allowed species in this genus appear in black? Similarly, why does the entry for the fathead minnow or rosyred (Pimephales promelas) also appear in red? In the case of the genus Hemisynodontis, which also is in red, there is an added note to the effect that "These species are now Synodontis (a licensed genus), but industry may still call them Hemisynodontis.” Yet Nannoptopoma—a genus of suckermouth catfish—also is highlighted in red, but no explanation is given.

Despite its anomalies, there can be no doubt that the new legislation marks an important step forward that clarifies a number of former gray areas in a simple, effective manner. We must therefore applaud both Defra and the two trade associations that contributed to the listings.

It also is hoped that provision is being built in to the process so that regular updating will occur. The fact is that, as scientific names change or new species appear on the scene, failure to update can lead to awkward situations and unwarranted restrictions. We need go no further than the recent (November 2013) changes in the names of the two popular species of red-lined torpedo barbs. Up until November, they were known as Puntius denisonii and P. chalakkudiensis, but they are now known as Sahyadria denisonii and S. chalakkudiensis, respectively. Understandably, owing to how recently the names changed, Sahyadria does not appear in the Defra listing, although Puntius, obviously, does. But is there a mechanism in place for it to appear shortly, or will it be a question of sticking to the old name, appearing to ignore the fact that the fish now belong to a new genus?

Further Reading
The full text of the Defra announcement, with links to the two lists discussed in this article, can be accessed at:

Updating is an inherent weakness of all Positive/Approved/White Lists, not just this latest Defra one.

Yet a strategy for avoiding potential risks of problems arising should be implemented. Perhaps a note in the introductory texts to the effect that genera/species whose names are updated will continue to be considered under their old name until the lists are updated might help. An indication of how often updates will be made might also help. As far as I am aware, this has not been announced with regard to the new Defra listings, but it’s early days yet…



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