Cold spell for coldwater imports

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New legislation means that Jersey, Guernsey, Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man are no longer able to import coldwater ornamental fish species from Great Britain's wholesalers.

Instead, aquatic retailers will have to get their stocks from certified SVC-free sources.

The new measures came into effect in May. However, some retailers only found out about this when they tried to import fresh stock but could not get the necessary fish movement documents, which allows the import of live fish. This document states that the fish are healthy and free from disease, and must be issued and signed by veterinary authorities.

The move is the result of a long drawn-out process of EU legislation. With the establishment of the single European market in 1992, an EU Fish Health Regime was set up to limit the spread of the most serious diseases across Europe and to free up trade between member states.

SVC, or Spring Viraemia of Carp, is a notifiable disease and is classified among a grouping of diseases that are classed as a serious problem in some member states. The other diseases in the group includes gyrodactylosis, Bacterial Kidney Disease (BKD), Furunculosis in salmon (FRC), Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN) in salmon. Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) is not yet a notifiable disease in the UK.

SVC affects carp, goldfish, roach, rudd, tench, orfe and wels. Symptoms may include lethargy, exophthalmia (pop-eye), dropsy (a swelling of the abdominal region), darkening of the skin, clear or pale faeces and a protruding anus, and bleeding from the skin or gills.

Following prolonged discussions, the concept of Approved Zones and Farms was introduced. These are EC-designated areas which have been tested for and shown to be free of specified fish diseases. For instance, Great Britain is an approved zone for Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia (VHS) and Infectious Haematopoietic Necrosis (IHN).

The highest health status is that of disease-free, followed by territories which have approved control and eradication programmes in place. Representatives from Ireland, the territories of Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey applied to the EU Commission and submitted evidence of freedom from SVC, and were accordingly granted disease-free status.

Great Britain, however, has only approved control and eradication programmes in place. What this means is that live fish can only be legally transferred between areas of equivalent status, or if the supplier has a higher health status. So territories classed as disease-free can only import from fellow certified disease-free territories. Within the EU, this includes Denmark, Finland and Sweden, which are not usual suppliers of coldwater fish to the UK.

As one official said: "These territories can still import fish; it's just more inconvenient."

Barry Evans, of St Peter's Garden Centre in Jersey, is extremely worried about the implications. Summer marks peak sales for fish like goldfish, Koi and shubunkin. No stock to sell will translate to thousands of pounds in lost revenue. He has tried to move stock over from Guernsey, which is also certified disease-free, but the local authorities would not even let that shipment through.

"It is extremely worrying and stressful. There seems to be a lot of confusion. I just wish someone would tell us what is going on," he said.

David Mullin, head of branch, fisheries division, Defra, said that discussions were ongoing to consider whether any adjustments were needed to current programmes operating within the UK.