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International Waters: Spanish Apple Snail Audit Recommends Damage Limitation

Posted: May 20, 2014, 9:15 a.m. EDT


By John Dawes 
"The genus Pomacea (Perry), hereinafter ‘the specified organism,’ shall not be introduced or spread within the Union.” With these simple words, Commission Implementing Decision 2012/697/EU, issued on Nov. 8, 2012, brought European trade in all species of apple snail to an immediate and total halt.
The decision will be reviewed on Feb. 28, 2015, and there are those who believe that some form of revision should be put in place. Apple snails cannot survive northern European winters and do not pose a threat to native fauna and flora in these regions. A pan-European ban, even where no risks exist, could therefore be seen as somewhat Draconian.
The law is the law, and unless or until a change occurs, all European importers, wholesalers and retailers as well as all exporters to Europe must abide by it or face possible prosecution. As stated in European Union law: "In all cases, national provisions in respect of criminal proceedings and administrative penalties shall apply according to normal procedures.”
 Apple Snail
Mature apple snail. John Dawes
The apple snail problem is centered around the River Ebro Delta in Catalonia, northern Spain, where its spread has caused significant damage, particularly to rice crops in the area. It was first officially detected in August 2009 in a drainage canal on the delta. By July 2010 it also had been detected in neighboring rice fields. Although the species identified via genetic studies was P. insularum, the Spanish Department of Agricultural, Livestock, Fishing, Food and Natural Environment did not exclude the possibility that a second species, P. canaliculata, also might be present in the delta, albeit in small numbers.
Less than one year after the ban was implemented, an audit from the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) of the European Commission, Health and Consumers Directorate-General visited Spain "in order to evaluate the control measures applied for Pomacea.” The audit took place Sept. 16-20, 2013, and its final report was duly published on March 3, 2014. The official response from the Spanish Competent Authorities was received on March 14, 2014.
The members of the FVO audit held meetings with the Competent Authorities at regional and subregional levels, and visited rice production sites in the River Ebro Delta as well as places of production of susceptible plants in the area, irrigation associations in Amposta and the fauna recuperation center laboratory.
The audit concluded that: 
• There is a clear structure and division of responsibilities between the Competent Authorities responsible for developing and implementing eradication measures;
• Current legislation allows for the eradication and control of apple snails;
• Staff and stakeholders possess a good level of awareness regarding the pest (this awareness does not cover tourists or visitors who might contribute to the spreading of the snails to new areas); and
• Research regarding better apple snail control is being carried out, and the laboratory and destruction facility work effectively.
The domestic ban imposed within Catalonia has undeniably worked as far as the presence of apple snails at importers’ premises and in retail shops. In 2011, there were 291 inspections, during which 339 snails were found and destroyed. By 2012, 481 inspections only yielded one specimen, while none were found during 409 inspections carried out during 2013.
Despite this and the eradication procedures, the audit found that although the Spanish authorities have taken measures to eradicate or contain the snails, they have been spreading. It also concluded that, while total eradication from rice fields is "technically possible,” not all the farmers apply the proposed official eradication measures fully or properly. Legislation requiring the implementation of such measures is in place, but it is not enforced and checked by the regional authorities. The audit also acknowledged that eradication within the River Ebro "is unrealistic in the near future” and that suppression of the pest is the aim; i.e., damage limitation is the most realistic option.
Taking all aspects into consideration, the FVO audit made a series of recommendations to the Spanish authorities. These revolve around the importance of applying all eradication and biosecurity measures that are available and are required by law and ensuring that investigations are carried out to determine if there is a risk of the snails spreading through the use of boats, and the need to take appropriate measures to address such risks.
For More Information:
Access the full text of the Food and Veterinary Office Final Report (with link to the Spanish Authorities’ response, in Spanish):
In response to the recommendations, the Spanish authorities detail the eradication and biosecurity measures that have been taken (and will be taken) to control apple snails as well as the imposition of penalties for noncompliance. Special measures, such as the drying out of affected areas as well as the treatment of others with seawater during autumn and winter, are being implemented. Experience gained in the battle against the invasive zebra mussel, including the establishment of disinfection centers, is now similarly directed toward apple snails.
The Spanish authorities are taking the responsible attitude no doubt expected by the FVO audit, and have detailed measures that can be accessed via the below link to the FVO report. Much progress has been made over the past 12 months, but it will prove interesting how things unfold during the coming year.
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