Exclusive: Endangered fish illegally on sale in UK

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Aquatic retailers may be trading in a fish that has been illegal to sell without authorisation since the 1970s; shops or fishkeepers caught using the species for commercial purporses without certificates risk 5000 fines for each specimen and/or up to five years in prison.

Practical Fishkeeping can exclusively reveal that retail outlets in the UK may have offered one of the world's most endangered fish, Probarbus jullieni (the Isok barb), for sale to the public in recent months.

The protected species is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as "Endangered" and has been at risk of extinction in many parts of its range for over 30 years.

International trade in the species has been controlled since 1975 when it was first listed on Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

Other endangered species afforded the same level of legal protection on CITES Appendix I include rhinoceros, gorilla, cheetah and a small number of extremely vulnerable fish such as coelacanths. "Other endangered species afforded the same level of legal protection on CITES Appendix I include rhinoceros, gorilla and cheetah..."

Shops stocking or importing the fish and fishkeepers that have purchased specimens which are not covered by the necessary CITES paperwork risk a fine of up to 5000 for each fish, and/or a prison sentence of up to five years.

The species is a large member of the carp family from south east Asia and can reach up to 1.5m/5' in length and weigh up to 70kg/154lbs, although most specimens remain smaller than this.

Probarbus jullieni is listed on Annex A of the EC CITES Regulations (Annex A is the approximate equivalent to Appendix I of the main CITES Regulations).

All Annex A listed specimens used for any commercial purpose need a certificate known as an Article 10, even if they are captive-bred.

Fish on saleOne reader purchased a single 20-25cm/8-10" Probarbus jullieni last week.

One user on an internet fishkeeping forum specialising in large fish said: "Yeah, I saw your fish . It's a P. julienni. Nice fish! Some are bred and distributed in the Asian countries and sometimes make their way overseas. Just watch out as there are no permits allowing them to be kept as pets.""Just watch out as there are no permits allowing them to be kept as pets."

The retailer who sold the fish, claimed that the specimen was brought in to the shop by a customer.

The retailer told Practical Fishkeeping that the fish is the only one he has ever seen and did not know its identity until it was compared to an image in a fish identification guide.

Another shop had at least seven specimens on sale earlier this year for 32.00 each under the common name Julie's barb.

Illegal tradeA DEFRA spokesman told Practical Fishkeeping that it was unaware of previous illegal trade in the species and confirmed that no import, re-export or Article 10 certificates had been issued for the species in the last 10 years. Penalties could be severe for unauthorised commercial use of Annex A species.

Under COTES (Control of Trade in Endangered Species Regulation 1997) an Article 10 is required to sell, purchase or use an Annex A species for commercial purposes, and without this, those found guilty could be fined up to 5000 per specimen and/or up to five years imprisonment.

The legislation is specifically formatted in such a way as to make the offence two ended. In other words both the purchaser and vendor commit an offence if there is no Article 10 certificate."Both the purchaser and vendor commit an offence if there is no Article 10 certificate..."

Import offences, which are dealt with under the Customs and Excise Management Act (CEMA) rather than COTES, can lead to custodial sentences of up to seven years and unlimited fines.

The same Article 10 certificates are used for the sale of other Annex A species, such as the Asian arowana, Scleropages formosus. There are two types of Article 10 certificate, a Transaction Specific Certificate (TSC) and a Specimen Specific Certificate (SSC). A TSC can be used for a single commercial transaction by the person named on the certificate, while an SSC can be used throughout the life of the specimen. Each application is considered individually and on its own merits, however, for an SSC to be issued the specimen must be micro-chipped.

As an Annex A listed specimen, if it was imported to the EU from a third country, CITES import permits should have been issued by the EU member into which the specimens were imported, and CITES export permits should have been issued by the exporting country.

An Annex A specimen must have a valid Article 10 Certificate of one sort or another to authorise its commercial use.

The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) Chief Executive, Keith Davenport, told Practical Fishkeeping that importers and retailers should check the legality of fish and invertebrates that may be listed on CITES before obtaining them.

It has now distributed a warning to its trade members reminding them of the legal status of the fish.

Trade in CITES-listed speciesAppendix I of CITES lists around 800 endangered species in which the trade in wild-caught specimens is illegal, or is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Live animals listed on Appendix I of CITES are only allowed in international trade in specific circumstances; captive-bred animals may only be fully traded if they have been bred in accordance with the CITES Convention by a CITES registered breeder.

Arowana which have been bred by CITES registered breeders and legally imported can be sold legally as Appendix II species, providing that the fish bear the microchip identity tags indicated on the import permit and the Article 10 Certificate, and are accompanied by the correct documentation at the point of export, import and sale.

Breeders wishing to trade their Annex A (Appendix I) specimens within the Community do not need to be CITES Registered. Applications for Article 10 Certificates for specimens bred in the European Community are also considered on a case by case basis.

Appendix II species are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but have had trade restricted to prevent further decline.

Nine fish species and one family are currently listed on Appendix I, with a further seven species and two groups (seahorses and sturgeons) listed on Appendix II.

Appendix I

Acipenser brevirostrum, Shortnose sturgeon

Acipenser sturio, European sturgeon

Chasmistes cujus, Cui-ui sucker

Probarbus jullieni, Isok barb

Latimeria spp., Coelacanths

Scleropages formosus, Asian arowana

Totaoaba macdonaldi, Totoaba

Pangasianodon (Pangasius) gigas, Giant mekong catfish

Pristidae spp, sawfishes apart from Pristis microdon

Appendix II

Caecobarbus geertsi, Congo blind barb

Anguilla anguilla, European eel (from March 2009)

Arapaima gigas, Pirarucu

Cheilinus undulatus, Humphead wrasse

Hippocampus spp., all seahorses

Neoceratodus forsteri, Australian lungfish

Acipenseriformes, sturgeons, sterlets and paddlefish

Rhincodon typus, Whale shark

Sawfish, Pristis microdon

A full list of species listed in the CITES Appendices is available on the CITES website.

Conservation statusProbarbus jullieni is found in the Mekong, Meklong and Chao Phraya basins of Indo China and Thailand, as well as in parts of Malaysia, where it is an expensive and sought-after food fish.

A review of the status of Probarbus jullieni as an Appendix I species was undertaken by Dr Vin Fleming of CITES in 2000. Fleming reported that P. jullieni was originally present in six river systems or water bodies, but is now believed to be extinct in two or three of these.

Fleming said that the species is highly vulnerable because the building of dams and the habitat loss meant that migration was hampered and spawning and nursery areas could be lost.

Other ProbarbusThe Probarbus genus contains two other species; Probarbus labeamajor (Thicklip barb) and Probarbus labeaminor (Thinlip barb), both of which were described by ichthyologist Tyson Roberts in 1992 from Cambodia and Thailand.

Both species have previously been confused with P. jullieni in the past, and as a result most of the information relating to the species has been lost through it being attributed to jullieni.

Neither Probarbus labeaminor or P. labeamajor are currently listed on any CITES Appendix. The IUCN listed both species as "Data Deficient" when they were last assessed in 1996.

Listing a species as Data Deficient does not indicate that it is unthreatened, rather it indicates that further research is required to accurately determine the conservation status of the species.

Fleming's CITES assessment of P. jullieni stated that the two related species may face the same ecological and trade pressures and suggested further investigation.

Confidential information line

Defra will investigate any breaches of CITES regulations and welcomes information regarding the sale, import or possession of the fish. Readers may contact CITES in confidence on 0117 372 8524 or via email on [email protected]