Fish illegal --Take care from illegal shops in EBAY

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How can my coldwater fish possibly be illegal?MAFF introduced the Prohibition of Keeping or Release of Live Fish (Specified Species) Order in 1998 in an effort to reduce the number of fishes illegally introduced into freshwaters in England and Wales.

The order lists a number of coldwater fishes that are believed to pose a threat to our environment. It stipulates that shops need a licence to sell the listed species, and that fishkeepers require a special licence to keep some of the fish mentioned. The order is made under the Import of Live Fish (England and Wales) Act 1980, or ILFA, for short.

Importantly, this legislation has just been updated in England and Wales, and Scotland are about to bring theirs in line with the rest of the UK. The list now covers dozens of coldwater fishes, including some of the popular alternative coldwater fish available in the shops. New species may be added later on.

What does this mean to the average enthusiast?

Depending on the species of fish you keep, and where you live, you may need to apply for a licence for fish you already own in order to stay on the right side of the law. You'll also need to get a licence for certain listed species before buying them. Similarly, if you work in the aquatic trade, your shop will need to obtain a special licence to sell listed coldwater species.

If you wish to purchase any of the listed species you will need to obtain a licence before purchasing the fish. Similarly, you should ensure that you purchase your fish from licenced premises.

Who enforces licensing?

The revised legislation is enforced by the Environment Agency and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS). If you get caught illegally keeping one of the listed species, or do not meet the conditions, you could face a hefty fine (up to �2500), and officials might even come to your home to confiscate and destroy your illegal pets.

What is the aim of all this?

The overall aim is to protect British freshwater fish stocks. Some non-native fish species have been illegally introduced at various locations around the country and have had a negative impact upon our native wildlife.

While many such introductions might be related to the popularity of some species, such as the gigantic Wels catfish, Silurus glanis, for angling purposes, a few might be the result of unscrupulous fishkeepers ditching the odd fish that has outgrown their tank.

It only takes one muppet to break the law by releasing an overgrown fish into a lake or river to ruin the hobby for the rest of us. Releasing any fish into the wild is illegal. Don't do it.

Which species are already on the list for England?

> Abramis ballerus, Blue bream
> Acipenser sp., Huso sp., Scaphirhynchus sp., Pseudoscaphirhynchus sp. and hybrids (sterlets and sturgeons)
> Alburnoides bipunctatus, Schneider
> Ambloplites rupestris, Rock bass
> Ameiurus sp. (coldwater ameiurid catfishes, including the bullhead, Ameirus nebulosus)
> Aspius aspius, Asp
> Chalcaburnus chalcoides,
Danubian bleak
> Chrondrostoma nasus, Nase
> Chrondrostoma toxostoma, Toxostome or French nase
> Ctenopharyngodon idella, Grass carp
> Hypophthalmichthys molitrix,
Silver carp
> Ictalurus sp. (coldwater ictalurid catfishes, including the Channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus)
> Leuciscus souffia, Blageon
> Lota lota, Burbot
> Micropterus salmoides, Large mouthed bass
> Mylopharyngodon piceus, Black
or Snail-eating carp
> Oncorhynchus mykiss (Rainbow
trout or Steelhead)
> Oncorhynchus sp. (Pacific trout)
> Polyodon spathula and Psephurus gladius (paddlefishes)
> Pseudorasbora parva, Clicker barb
or Topmouth gudgeon
> Rhodeus sericeus, Bitterling
> Salmo salar (Non-anadromous, landlocked Salmon)
> Silurus sp. (coldwater silurid catfishes including the Wels,
Silurus glanis)
> Stizostedion sp., Zander
> Vimba vimba, Vimba

Which ones are in the amendment for England?

> Barbus sp. (Barbel species, excluding the native Barbus barbus)
> Catostomus commersoni, Common white sucker
> Channa argus, Northern snakehead
> Coregonus sp. (Whitefishes, excluding the native species C. lavaretus and C. albula)
> Cycleptus elongatus, Blue sucker
> Cyprinella (Notropsis) lutrensis, Red shiner or Rainbow dace
> Esox sp. (Pikes, excluding the native E. lucius)
> Hucho sp. (Danubian Salmon or Taimen)
> Lepomis sp. (Pumpkinseeds,
sunfish, sunbass, crappies, bluegills
and other Lepomis sp.)
> Leucaspius delineatus, Motherless minnow
> Misgurnus fossilis, Weather loach
> Morone sp. (Striped bass, White bass and Morone hybrids)
> Myxocyprinus asiaticus, Chinese sailfin sucker
> Perca sp. (Perch species excluding the native P. fluviatilis)
> Phoxinus (Chrosomus) eos, Northern red-belly dace
> Phoxinus (Chrosomus) erythrogaster, Southern red-belly dace
> Pimephales promelas, Rosy red minnow or Fathead minnow
> Rhinichthys atratulus, Blacknose dace
> Salmo marmoratus (Marbled trout)
> Salvelinus sp. (Charr species, including the American Brook trout, but excluding the native Salvelinus alpinus)
> Umbra krameri, European mudminnow
> Umbra pygmaea, Eastern mudminnow
> Zacco platypus, Pale chub

Do I need a licence for all of the fish on the list?

No. Some species are covered by a general licence, and you don't actually need to do anything in order to keep these fish legally. However, shops do need to hold a special licence to sell you fishes that are covered by a general licence.

You will need to apply for a licence if you wish to keep those coldwater fishes that are not included in the general licence. Similarly, your shop will need a special licence to sell you fish and should check that you are a licence holder when you buy them.

These species would probably not be available under a general licence if it wasn't for the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) who are fighting in our interests, as well as the trade's.

Which species are covered by this general licence thing?

Most of the very widely kept alternative coldwater and pond fish are covered.

You do not currently need to apply for a licence to keep Grass carp, sterlets, sturgeons, coldwater catfishes, Rosy red minnows or Red shiners. However, retailers and other fish suppliers do need to hold a licence to sell them to you. The general licence for ictalurid catfishes is due for review soon.

Is it the same in Scotland?

No. The Scottish Parliament are currently in the final stages of preparing an equivalent form of legislation. It looks as if it is going to be much more restrictive than the legislation covering England and Wales.

For instance, they do not intend to issue general licences, so you may need to apply for a licence to keep any of the species they list in the legislation. The details should be out shortly. We will keep you informed of any developments!

The documents Practical Fishkeeping has seen appear poorly worded, and like the English legislation they use incorrect taxonomic terminology that could mislead fishkeepers.

For example, both the Scottish and English legislation states that all members of the genus Barbus are banned. However, we believe the legislation actually refers to members of the Barbel (Barbus barbus) genus, and not to the Puntius genus (in which most representatives were previously lumped in Barbus). If this were the case, a wide range of fish would no longer be legal.

The Scottish legislation also did the same with Channa (while the English legislation was specific that it was referring to Channa argus - a species that lives in coldwater). It is not clear at this time whether the Scottish legislation will actually make it illegal to keep any Channa species in Scotland.

What about Bitterling?

Both you and the shop will need to hold a licence if you wish to keep the European Bitterling, Rhodeus sericeus. One of the retailers we spoke to did hold a licence to stock this species. However, they said that they were unlikely to stock any because they did not know of any customers who were licensed to keep these fish.

Other Bitterling species, like Acheilognathus, aren't covered by this legislation, and neither you nor the shop need a licence to keep them. The snag is, we reckon, that these other Bitterling are extremely difficult to obtain, largely because people think that they require a licence to sell or keep them, and that most suppliers mistakenly identify and list them as Rhodeus sericeus...

Weather loaches are on the list. Do I need a licence?

Probably not. Although the list mentions the Weather loach, Misgurnus fossilis, this is not the fish in the UK aquatic trade. The Weather loaches imported
into our shops are actually M. anguillicaudatus, which comes from Central China rather than Europe. M. anguillicaudatus (a warm water species) isn't considered a threat to our environment, so it's not covered by the legislation.

The trade say that Weather loaches have become less common due to health problems.

The list says Barbus species. Does this mean that I can't legally keep my Tiger barbs?

Don't panic. It doesn't refer to all of the cyprinids in the former genus Barbus, so your Tiger barbs are safe. These are now members of Puntius. The list of species that cannot be kept without a licence refers to species of the genus Barbus, excluding our native Barbel, Barbus barbus.

This is a reference only to members of the Barbel-group, such as Barbus comiza and meridionalis, which are becoming popular with anglers. It does not include any of the tropical aquarium barbs.

What impact might this have on the coldwater side of the fishkeeping hobby?

The Prohibition of Keeping or Release of Live Fish (Specified Species) Order 1998 did see a reduction in the range of coldwater fishes available. Some species - especially those which fishkeepers had to apply for licences for, such as Pumpkinseeds and the Bitterling, Rhodeus sericeus - largely vanished from the shops as a result.

Few retailers bothered to apply for a licence to sell fish that the vast majority of their customers could not legally keep, so the range of coldwater fish available fell further still.

Some shops might not bother to stock the species listed under the general licence if they have to go to the hassle of obtaining a licence to sell them to you.

It's extremely unlikely that shops will stock fish that can only be kept by a miniscule percentage of their clientele.
We think that those species that aren't covered by the general license are going to disappear from the trade.

Is that why you don't see the Chinese sailfin sucker, Myxocyprinus asiaticus, in the shops that often nowadays?

No. Although Myxocyprinus was not a licensed species before, it was recently reclassified as a temperate species rather than a tropical fish - even though it's unlikely that it will tolerate temperatures lower than 15�C
for any period of time.

As a temperate or coldwater fish, importers now need to go to the extra measure of getting a DOF1 health certificate for the fish. Experts tell us that it's this extra red tape that has led to the decline of this particular species in recent years.
However, because this is one of the species that's just been added to the amendment, shops and fishkeepers need a licence to keep or sell it.

Crayfish have also disappeared from the shops. Are they covered by this legislation too?

No, but crayfish are covered by some other restrictive legislative controls - and for good reason.

The legislation was introduced seven years ago through the Prohibition of Keeping of Live Fish (Crayfish) Order 1996. However, many people are still unaware of the legal issues in this area. In a nutshell, if it's a crayfish, there's a 99.9% chance that you aren't allowed to keep it.

With the exception of one species, the Red-claw crayfish (often sold as the Blue lobster), Cherax quadricarinatus, they are all illegal! Even tropical crayfishes are banned, so do not be tempted to buy one should you see one on sale. This is why PFK no longer covers them.

Very importantly, there are several crayfish sold in the trade as Blue lobsters, not all of which are Cherax quadricarinatus. Not all blue lobsters are legal! Procambarus alleni, an illegal species from North America, is often sold under this name by shops who are unaware of the legislation.

The measures serve to protect our native White clawed crayfish, Austropotamobius pallipes, which has suffered as a result of the introduction of non-natives like the Signal crayfish.

The native crayfish has been suffering from a disease called crayfish plague, which was probably introduced by exotic crayfish that escaped from crayfish farms where they are bred for the table. (Crayfish are very tasty - Pret a Manger do a superb crayfish and rocket sandwich if you want to try it).

Strangely, there's a funny loophole here in that it's currently legal to import banned crayfish from the EU, even though they can't be legally kept upon arrival. The Fish Health Inspectorate is attempting to stop this trade and can remove crayfish from consignments and could visit premises to seize illegally kept specimens.

If you already own a crayfish and are unsure whether it is a Red-claw, there is an identification guide on the eFishBusiness website:

Before buying (or selling) a crayfish always check the above guide to ensure that the species is legal to keep in the UK! Many of those seen in shops are not.

What do the aquatic trade think about the changes?

Although everyone we spoke to agreed that something needs to be done in order to protect our native freshwater fish stocks, many thought that the new legislation was rather restrictive.

The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) was consulted during the preparation of the legislation. It has particularly strong feelings about the proposed Scottish order, which intends not to issue general licences for a wide range of coldwater fishes. OATA believes that some of the comparisons made in the risk assessments have been unfair and that some species, like the Pumpkinseed, Lepomis gibbosus, should be covered by a general licence.

OATA also thinks that those species that can merely survive, and not breed, in the UK such as Myxocyprinus asiaticus shouldn't be listed. They also think the Rosy red minnow, Pimephales promelas, and the Red shiner, Cyprinella (Notropsis) lutrensis, should not require licences in Scotland.

What do I need to do?

If the species you keep or want to keep is covered by a general licence, as a fishkeeper you won't need to do anything - other than keep the fish responsibly. However, the shop that sells you the fish must first apply for and be granted a special licence in order to legally sell the fish.

If you already own one of the species which is not covered by a general licence, you'll need to contact Defra to apply for one.

If you are planning to buy a species which requires a licence, you'll need to be granted the licence first and then track down a dealer who is licensed to obtain the fish for you. The chances of finding such dealers are likely to be slim because the process of applying for a licence is likely to put many people off, effectively making the market for these fish even smaller.

As I mentioned earlier, it's unlikely to be a good economic proposition for your local shop to get in a load of licensed fish when hardly any of its customers are allowed to keep them.

How do I get a licence?

If you are a fishkeeper and want to keep something which isn't covered by a general licence, or you are in the aquatic trade and want to sell a fish covered by a general licence, you'll need to contact CEFAS and get an application form.

Licences are issued by Defra and are free of charge. Allow about two months for the application to be processed. You can get further information by calling Defra on 020 7238 5931.

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