ARCHIVE: Non-native fish
On this page:
- Who needs a licence?
- Issue of licences
- Can I sell or transfer my fish
- Please be aware fish size does matter!
- List of species covered
Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus)
It is accepted internationally that introductions of non-native fish species have generally been harmful and that a cautious approach should be adopted towards such introductions. As demonstrated by Topmouth gudgeon and signal crayfish, the introduction of non-native species of fish and shellfish can have far-reaching and undesirable ecological consequences.
It is therefore vital if we are to protect native species and their habitat and conserve the unique diversity of animal and plant life in our rivers and stillwaters that we restrict the spread of non-native fish species.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, makes it an offence to introduce non-native species of fish into the wild without a licence issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Welsh Assembly Government.
Bitterling (Rhodeus sericeus)
The 1981 Act is complemented by the Prohibition of Keeping or Release of Live Fish (Specified Species) Order 1998. This Order made under the Import of Live Fish (England and Wales) Act 1980. Two separate, but almost identical, Orders for England and Wales - The Prohibition of Keeping or Release of Live Fish (Specified Species) (Amendment) (England) and (Wales) Orders 2003 - were made in 2003, which extended the list of specified species. These Orders make it an offence to keep or release any of the non-native species listed in the Schedule to the Order [link to list] without a valid licence issued by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (in England) or the Welsh Assembly Government (for Wales).
The written consent of the Environment Agency for introductions of all native an non-native fish into inland waters other than fish farms is also required under section 30 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. Information on how to obtain a section 30 can be found on the Environment Agency website.
A licence for the introduction of non-native species cannot be issued where a section 30 consent is refused, and vice versa.
A more detailed description of the controls relating to the keeping and release of non-native fish species in England and Wales is provided:
- Controls on the keeping or release of non-native fish in England and Wales [PDF] (on eFishBusiness website)
Any person intending to hold, keep or release any of the non-native species of fish is required to be in possession of a licence before obtaining the fish.
Owners of waters in which non-native fish were kept or introduced before the Order came into force should have applied for a licence by 1 May 1999. Anyone who has not yet applied is advised to do so as soon as possible.
All those wishing to keep any of the listed species, including fish farmers, fish dealers, wholesalers, retailers, hobbyists and owners of fisheries require an individual licence to do so. However, those wishing to keep grass carp, sturgeon/sterlet and ameiurid (ictalurid) catfish in garden ponds and indoor aquaria or red shiners and fathead minnows ('roseyreds') in indoor aquaria (other than aquaria on retail or wholesale premises) are covered by a general licence which is held by Defra and therefore need not apply for individual licences. The general licence as it applies to ameriurid (ictalurid) catfish and sturgeon/sterlet is currently being reviewed.
Application forms for the keeping and/or release of non-native fish can be obtained from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Fish Health Inspectorate, Weymouth Laboratory, The Nothe, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 8UB.Tel: 01305 206673/6674; Fax: 01305 206602; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or from the Defra forms pages:
- Application for a licence to be issued under the Import of Fish (England & Wales) Act 1980 and/or the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
Licences are issued free of charge and each application is considered on its individual merits. For example in relation to an application involving a fishery, a number of factors would be taken into account: the nature of site itself, whether there were any specific nature conservation concerns - such as whether the site was in, or bordered an SSSI, whether there would be any site security issues or indeed whether the site was within the 1:100 year flood plan. Careful evaluation would also be given to the specific fish species to be kept or released, since there are different perceived levels of risk associated with different non-native fish. Natural England, the Environment Agency and Cefas are all formally consulted as part of the approval process.
Topmouth gudgeon (Pseudorasbora parva)
If a licence is issued it may be subject to various terms and conditions. Such conditions may include the fitting and maintenance of screens on inlets and outlets. Licences will normally be issued for a single introduction of a single species, but multi-species and multiple-introduction licences can be issued to fish farmers, dealers and retailers. Licences will generally be valid for an indefinite period, except where circumstances or conditions dictate.
A licensee must first ensure that the terms and conditions of their own licence allows them to supply others. Anyone to whom they wish to sell or give any listed fish must also be in possession of an appropriate licence, unless the species concerned is covered by the General Licence. If you are unsure of the terms and conditions of your licence then contact Cefas Weymouth for clarification at the address listed above.
Failure to comply with licence conditions may result in licences being revoked and possible prosecution. Maximum penalties of up to £2,500 can be enforced in cases of non-compliance with the legislation. Depending on circumstances, illegally stocked fish may have to be removed and destroyed.
Please be aware that when you buy an ornamental cold water fish for your garden pond, such as some species of sturgeon, these fish can grow from a 10cm specimen brought in a garden centre or pet shop, to a giant between 1 and 2 metres long, weighing over 35 kilos if released into the wild.
It would be an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Prohibition of Keeping or Release of Live Fish (Specified Species) (Amendment) England Order 2003 and Section 30 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, to release such a fish into any other waters without an appropriate licence.
A non-native fish released into the wrong environment can do irreparable damage to native flora and fauna. The disposal of unwanted fish is therefore an offence under the aforementioned legislation.
A number of organisations may be able to help with the re-homing of unwanted fish, such as Sealife Centres, RSPCA and the Environment Agency.
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Page last modified:
13 November 2008
Page published: 17 January 2005