International Waters: Spain Mulls Future Bans

Neither swordtails nor their relatives, the moon or southern platies, can survive Spanish winters.

Spain is in the news again. Just a little over a year ago, the Spanish koi sector was brought to a grinding halt when the country’s Supreme Tribunal’s Court of Contentious Administrative Affairs ruled that these colorful carp could no longer be imported.

The reason for this decision was based on the fact that koi belong to the same species as the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), which is one of the fish species included in Spain’s catalog of exotic and invasive species deemed to pose a threat to its native fauna and flora. The inclusion of a species in the catalog automatically carries with it a ban on import, export, sale and even possession.

Spain’s current catalog of species contains the following 21 entries (although, in reality, it also embraces the whole Channa genus consisting of 41 species—presumably, to include the three Parachanna species, which are not specifically referred to by name):

  • Alburnus alburnus, Bleak
  • Ameiurus melas, Black bullhead
  • Channa spp., Snakeheads
  • Cyprinus carpio, Common carp (and koi)
  • Esox lucius, Pike
  • Fundulus heteroclitus, Mummichog
  • Australoheros facetus, Chameleon cichlid
  • Gambusia holbrooki, Eastern mosquitofish
  • Ictalurus punctatus, Channel catfish
  • Lepomis gibbosus, Sunfish
  • Micropterus salmoides, Largemouth black bass
  • Misgurnus anguillicaudatus, Dojo
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss, Rainbow trout
  • Perca fluviatilis, Perch
  • Pseudorasbora parva, Pseudorasbora
  • Pterois volitans, Lionfish
  • Rutilus rutilus, Roach
  • Salvelinus fontinalis, Brook trout
  • Sander lucioperca, Zander
  • Scardinius erythrophthalmus, Rudd
  • Silurus glanis, Wels catfish

Even a mere cursory glance at the list will reveal some fundamental flaws and beg some questions. For example, Gambusia holbrooki is listed. If so, why not G. affinis, which is so similar as to be only distinguished from it by experts? Then, what’s Pterois volitans doing on the list? Was it included because of its invasiveness along American coasts? If so, why not include the extremely similar P. miles as well?

I do not wish to be misinterpreted. I, along with my colleagues in the industry, support the control of invasive alien (exotic) species (IAS). However, we would argue that IAS lists should be based on good science and be as reasonable and workable as possible.

It is this that is now raising further concerns within the industry, following the announcement that Spain plans to extend its catalog of fish species by adding a further 18 entries, which, in effect, could total more than 260 species, as some of the genera proposed for listing are large (see below). Again, the concern is not specifically about the intention to expand the list, if the proposed species warrant inclusion, but, rather, about some of the actual species that are being considered. 

If the above list is flawed and controversial, and open to debate, the new proposed list of additions is much worse. The full proposed listing of fish species is as follows (but there are also a couple of corals, several shrimps and one reptile penciled in for inclusion):

  •  Arapaima gigas, Arapaima or pirarucu
  • Carassius spp., Goldfish and its relatives—six species
  • Cichla spp., Peacock cichlid and its close relatives—15 species
  • Colossoma macropomum, Pacu 
  • Pterygoplichthys spp., Genus of "pleco" suckermouth catfish with 16 species
  • Oryzias latipes, Medaka or rice fish
  • Osphronemus goramy, Giant gourami 
  • Pygocentrus nattereri, Red-bellied piranha
  • Siganus spp., Rabbitfishes—genus with 29 species
  • Hypophthalmichthys spp., Silver carps—three species
  • Poecilia spp., Genus embracing guppies, mollies and their relatives—40 species
  • Potamotrygon falkneri, Largespot river stingray 
  • Potamotrygon motoro, Motoro or South American freshwater stingray 
  • Ctenopharyngodon idella, Grass carp 
  • Hypostomus spp., Genus of "pleco" suckermouth catfish with 148 species
  • Tanichthys albonubes, White Cloud Mountain minnow
  • Xiphophorus maculatus, Southern or moon platy 
  • Xiphophorus hellerii, Swordtail

Of course, one would assume that the Spanish authorities are in possession of appropriate, creditable evidence for listing all of these species without exception. We would also, quite naturally, expect them to be able to present these data for review and discussion with all stakeholders. We, therefore, await such documentation with great interest, to put it mildly. 

The new list raises countless questions. Why, for example, list the goldfish when it has already been present in Spanish waters for around 400 years (introduced during the period 1600–1699) and has long been naturalized within the country? Why list whole genera, irrespective of the characteristics of the individual species concerned? Why on earth list the giant gourami if—with a temperature range of 20-30 degrees Celsius (—it appears that it can’t survive Spanish winters? 

Obviously, space doesn’t allow me to discuss each individual entry, so I’ll concentrate, albeit briefly, on just two genera which are of fundamental importance to the ornamental aquatic industry: Poecilia and Xiphophorus, i.e., guppies, mollies and their relatives, along with swordtails, platies and their relatives.

Such listing would, obviously, hit the Spanish sector very hard, but such action could also have much wider pan-European implications if other EU Member States were to follow suit. And, in any case, can a coherent case be advanced for including all 40 Poecilia spp., or even one? At the moment, the two Xiphophorus species being mentioned are X. maculatus—the southern or moon platy—and X. hellerii—the swordtail.

Bearing in mind that the temperature range for X. maculatus is given as 18-25 degrees Celsius and for X. hellerii it is given as 22-28 degrees Celsius ( how can such inclusions be justified when both species will not be able to survive Spanish winter temperatures, not even in southern Spain? I live in Spain’s southernmost and warmest region (Andalucía), and the temperature of the water in my pond drops to 8 degrees Celsius, or even lower, during January and February every year, meaning that neither the moon platy nor the swordtail would stand a chance of surviving from one season to the next.

As far as Poecilia species are concerned, gives the temperature range for the guppy (P. reticulata) as 18-28 degrees Celsius. If we take into consideration the fact that the guppy is one of the hardiest, if not the hardiest, species in the genus, and that it can’t survive Spanish winter temperatures, this must, surely, cast considerable doubt on the wisdom of the proposed listings.

Obviously, AEDPAC, the Spanish pet trade association—with support from Ornamental Fish International (OFI)—is holding talks with the Spanish authorities to try and avoid what could turn out to be a major, disastrous and unwarranted setback for the Spanish sector and, probably, the whole of the European ornamental aquatic trade.

I will keep our readers posted on progress—or the lack of it!


I would like to thank Paul Bakuwel, OFI secretary general, for alerting me to the existence of the list, and Shane Willis, OFI president, for forwarding me a copy for my attention.

John Dawes is an international ornamental aquatic industry consultant. He has written and/or edited more than 50 books and has contributed more than 4,000 articles to hobby, trade and academic publications. He is the editor of the OFI Journal and a consultant to AquaRealm, the trade show that took place June 2017 in Singapore.