Imports of popular aquarium fish may be restricted

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Imports of a wide range of popular wild-caught tropical fish could be restricted later this year when a new European Union Directive is introduced.

Imports of barbs from the Puntius genus, Trichogaster gouramis, freshwater sharks from the Labeo genus, Channa snakeheads, Catla, Mastacembelus spiny eels and mullet from the Mugil genus could all be restricted when the EU Directive on Aquatic Animal Health comes into force in August 2008.

The Aquatic Animal Health Directive (known as 2006/88/EC) makes the fish diseases KHV (Koi Herpes Virus) and EUS (Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome) notifiable diseases throughout the EU and will introduce measures to control the import of susceptible fishes.

While KHV is currently believed to primarily affect the carp (Cyprinus carpio), EUS can potentially affect a much wider range of species, including a number of popular tropical aquarium fish.

If introduced, it is unlikely that Channa will remain available, as the vast majority are wild caught.

350 species coveredThe Directive has listed the entire Puntius, Trichogaster, Mastacembelus, Labeo, Catla and Mugil genera as susceptible to the disease, and is proposing to restrict imports of the fish from areas not proven to be free of the disease.

There are currently 126 Puntius, 28 Channa, 5 Trichogaster, 61 Mastacembelus, 105 Labeo, 18 Mugil and 3 Catla species recognised; so the list covers nearly 350 species.

No mention is made of a ban on closely related genera, which may contain fishes formerly in those genera listed in the Directive.

Since exporters who catch fish in the wild are unable to meet this requirement, the move could mean the end of all imports of members of these genera that are not bred in captivity at locations proven to be free of EUS.

Defra said: "All Member States of the European Union and some members of the European Economic Area including Norway, are required to put regulations in place to implement this directive by May 2008 and to bring them into force by August 2008.

"Some of the provisions are clearly obligatory and Member States must adopt them. Other areas provide flexibility and choices for the individual governments to make within the overall framework of the directive."

The Directive, which applies to the implementation of the EU legislation in England and Wales, is still in the consultation period and consultees have until March 7 2008 to respond to the proposals.

All Mastacembelus are covered by the Directive.

Epizootic Ulcerative SyndromeThe disease responsible for the proposed change in legislation, Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome or EUS, is one that few fishkeepers will have heard of.

It is believed to be a complex disease characterised by the presence of a fungi called Aphanomyces invadans and causes ulcer-like sores on the body, possibly due to secondary infections by opportunistic bacteria including Aeromonas hydrophila and A. sobria.

The fungus invades the body cavity and can lead to mass mortalities in a range of fish. Defra claims that the disease, which is seasonal, is of great importance and can affect wild and farmed fish in freshwater and estuarine areas.

EUS is endemic in south east Asia and south Asia and has recently been recorded in west Asia. It has not yet been recorded in the UK.

Trade oppositionThe proposed blanket ban on entire genera is causing concern within the aquarium trade. International aqarium trade body Ornamental Fish International (OFI) said:

"We cannot agree with the present EU list of susceptible genera. According to the information provided by Defra/OIE, only one species of Puntius and only one species of Labeo is susceptible to EUS and not a single species of Mastacembelus.

"OFI is currently discussing with the European Commission the issue of listing these complete genera. The present list, however, is published in the EU Directive 2006/88 and adaptation will need a change of the EU legislation."

Keith Davenport, the Chief Executive of the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) told Practical Fishkeeping: "The new Directive is supposed to apply measures proportionate to any risks identified. We have always argued that any measures must address real practical risks rather than theoretical possibilities identified by office based analyses.

"While disease has been reported in the genera listed as susceptible to EUS there is no evidence of imports for the ornamental trade causing problems in the EU. Thus many decades of practical experience has failed to reveal a practical risk.

"Even the directive itself recognises that ornamental fish, especially tropicals, held in aquariums and ponds do not pose the same risk as fish for stocking in the wild.

"We will continue to work with colleagues in other trade groups, especially OFI, to press the case for the Directive to be applied in a manner that is proportionate to the real risks involved."

Further information on the consultation on the Implementation of EU Legislation in England and Wales: Aquatic Animal Health Directive can be found on the Defra website.

All pictures by Neil Hepworth.