Fishkeepers and fish show enthusiasts may be inadvertently breaking the law, DEFRA has warned Practical Fishkeeping.
DEFRA says that there is confusion among fishkeepers regarding the conditions under which live fish can be imported into the UK, including those taken to shows in the EU and fish purchased online from traders based overseas.
"We know that most fishkeepers are thoroughly responsible and sensible," a Defra spokesman told the magazine.
"However, we believe that some are still taking fish to shows in other EU countries and then returning with the fish to this country.
"Others are believed to be travelling to mainland Europe to purchase live Koi and other species of coldwater ornamentals from retail outlets in Belgium."
Illegal online salesOther fishkeepers are also breaking the law by importing fish purchased on the Internet, which are sent by post without health certification, bypassing the usual checks and import legislation.
These activities were first exposed by Practical Fishkeeping in 2006, after an undercover report revealed a number of online traders were willing to post fish to the UK from the USA and elsewhere, without the proper paperwork. See: Website may be a source of illegal fish imports, News, 6 March 2006.
DEFRA said: "CEFAS has also worked with US authorities investigating alleged offences of importing live fish from the United States to the United Kingdom without the necessary health certification. It appears that the fish are purchased via the Internet and sent direct by post to UK customers in contravention of our import regulations.
"It is likely that much of this activity is undertaken in all innocence but the fact is that these practices contravene UK legislation on movement of live fish and therefore represent a real threat of disease."
Disease riskMost of the legislation exists in an attempt to minimise the likelihood of fish infected with diseases entering the UK and contaminating our native freshwater fish stocks, or harming the UK's fish industry.
DEFRA said: "With current concerns over Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) and its recent listing as a notifiable disease alongside Spring Viraemia of Carp (SVC), it is obviously in everyone's interest that the measures contained in our legislation to prevent disease are clearly understood and applied by all."
"All movements of live non-tropical fish entering Great Britain from other parts of the EU must be accompanied by valid health certification issued and signed by the competent veterinary authority in the country of origin.
"For species susceptible to SVC such as Koi, Goldfish and Common carp, the certification must confirm that the fish are free of SVC and also pose no risk of transferring salmonid diseases VHS and IHN through contact with susceptible species.
"In addition to the health statement the document must also list the number and species of all the consigned animals and identify their source and destination. Furthermore, importers should give advance notice of not less than 24 hours, to to the Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) at Cefas of all intended imports."