Fishkeepers are using an auction website to illegally import fishes into the UK, risking prosecution and huge fines, Practical Fishkeeping has learned.
According to one complainant, some AquaBid.com sellers are offering to send fish illegally to the UK via the regular postal system, without the necessary import licence or health documentation, and without informing the Fish Health Inspectorate.
"One seller regularly ships Endler's to the UK without any paperwork and through the slow regular mail service", the reader claimed. "I know this as a friend of mine brought some fish from him and they took eight days to arrive and were in very poor condition. He didn't even realise he needed a licence to get fish this way and when I told him he realised he's lucky not to have been caught and fined."
Last week, Practical Fishkeeping approached nine sellers based in the United States and Thailand who were advertising worldwide shipping for fish they were auctioning on AquaBid.com.
Five days in transitSeven AquaBid.com sellers said they could send fish to us in the UK if we won the auction, with one of those agreeing in principle, but suggesting we waited until the weather in the UK was a little warmer.
One Thai seller told us: "As we don't have a transshipper in the UK we have two choices to send the fish. Send by EMS Express Mail, which takes about five days and costs $55 US dollars.
"Or, send them to our transshipper in Germany then you arrange time and payment from Germany to UK to the transshipper. Cost of sending fish from Thailand to transshipper in Germany is $30 US dollars."""Well, I'll ship, but I won't guarantee their live arrival, which I kind of doubt..."A seller in the USA, who we asked to send us some Nothobranchius korthausae "Mafia Island", told us: "Well, I'll ship, but I won't guarantee their live arrival, which I kind of doubt. Apistos can go that long but I've never had experience with killies."
An AquaBid.com spokesman told Practical Fishkeeping: "It is the responsibility of the seller and buyer to comply with all governmental laws and regulations of the local country. AquaBid.com does not condone illegal activities of its sellers and buyers.
"I have been contacted by the US Fish and Wildlife in the past. I have cooperated and provided seller's and buyer's information for their further investigation."
Illegal fish importsStephen Maidment of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), an executive agency of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), told Practical Fishkeeping that it was currently working with official services in other countries to investigate the purchases of live fish over the Internet.
Said Maidment: "We have reason to believe that a small number of fish may have been shipped to Great Britain in contravention of our import requirements. We regard any such shipment as a serious matter and we will investigate and prosecute cases where fish have been imported illegally."
Maidment believes that the fishes are being purchased in innocence, but says that does not take away the fact that the practice is contravening UK legislation on the movement of live fish, which are set up to protect native and commercial stocks from potentially harmful diseases.
Maidment told us: "We know that most fishkeepers are thoroughly responsible and sensible. However, we believe that some are still taking fish to shows in Ireland and the Continent, 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, France, etc.
"The Fish Health Inspectorate endeavours to stop all illegal imports but it appears that there is still confusion among some people, including ornamental and tropical fish enthusiasts, over the conditions under which live fish may be imported."Illegal importation of ornamental fish has in one case resulted in the imposition of fines, costs and losses in excess of 60,000. It is clearly a matter taken seriously by the courts...""Any person found importing fish without proper documentation will have their fish seized and destroyed, and could face prosecution. Illegal importation of ornamental fish has in one case resulted in the imposition of fines, costs and losses in excess of 60,000. It is clearly a matter taken seriously by the courts."
Border Inspection PostsCefas says that all imports need to come through one of the three Border Inspection Posts (BIP) at Heathrow, Gatwick or Manchester and the State Veterinary Service need to have received prior notification that the fish are on their way.
All imports of live coldwater fish from the EU must also be accompanied by an EU health certificate that must have been signed by veterinary authorities in the country of origin.
Importantly, it's just as illegal to go to aquarium suppliers in Germany or Holland and bring fishes back in hand luggage.
"They must be consigned as freight, in transport boxes meeting International Air Transport Association (IATA) standards," says Maidment. "Failure to do so will lead to the fish being confiscated and destroyed, and the importer could face prosecution."
"Such rigorous import controls are obviously in everyone's interests, to prevent disease destroying our fish. Acknowledgement of the risks involved and voluntary compliance with the regulations is by far the best way to do it."
Getting guidanceCefas says that anyone who wishes to import fish into the UK or export them to other countries, including showing them abroad or in Ireland, should contact the Fish Health Inspectorate for advice on certification requirements.
Cefas has asked readers with information relating to the illegal import of fishes to contact the Fish Health Inspectorate's Investigations Officer, and has urged the complainant who contacted Practical Fishkeeping and Cefas last week to come forward as they believe he may have further information that may help them in their enquiries.
Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
Tel. 01305 206674