CEFAS AND ILLEGAL
IMPORTS OF LIVE FISH
CEFAS needs your help!
The question of illegal imports
of live freshwater fish seems to stimulate more interest, more comment and more
hypocrisy than just about any other facet of angling. Everyone has something to
say on the subject. Some sensibly view it as an activity which is potentially
dangerous and should be stopped. Others feel that foreign fish should be
allowed onto secure enclosed licensed sites. A section of the fisheries and
angling fraternities feel that all movements of live fish should be de-regulated
and fisheries given free reign to introduce whatever they like. After all, aren’t
the smugglers only exercising their entrepreneurial skills to satisfy an obvious
demand, and aren’t the fishery owners only catering for an existing and thriving
angling market? I’m sure we’ve all heard the comments:
cope well enough on the continent without worrying too much about regulating fish
movements don’t they?’
‘There’s no such thing as a British carp.’
‘It’s too late to do anything about it now.’
don’t they just de-regulate the whole industry and let everyone get on with it!’
An alternative view might be that as so very little is known
about the long-term ecological and environmental impact of foreign fish, perhaps
it would be sensible for all interested parties to work together to stop them
coming in before irreversible damage is caused. We know that SVC (spring viraemia
of carp) and other exotic varieties of parasites have been found in illegally
imported fish, and it is reasonable to conclude that many of our indigenous fish
have died as a result of this trade. What else has been brought in?
What are the long-term implications? Nobody knows.
agency responsible for preventing illegal imports of live fish is CEFAS (Centre
for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science), but CEFAS needs the help
and support of the public in its attempts to stamp out this illegal trade. Our
indigenous fish stocks are a valuable and essential part of our environment and
of our heritage. It is in the interests of everyone involved, from anglers, fishery
owners and traders, to the general public to help prevent illegal imports.
What is CEFAS?
The Centre for Environment Fisheries
and Aquaculture Science is an agency of the Department for Environment
Food and Rural Affairs and is responsible for the prevention of serious fish disease
in England and Wales. It’s head office is located at Lowestoft and it has other
laboratories in Burnham, Weymouth and Whitehaven. The Weymouth laboratory is the
European Union national reference laboratory for fish diseases in England and
Wales. It is home to the Fish Health inspectorate, a team of fourteen fish health
inspectors, including eight field inspectors and four administrative staff. The
inspectorate is responsible for carrying out routine inspections of all fish farms
in England and Wales, and for licensing and monitoring all legal imports and exports
of live fish and shellfish from the EU and third countries.
When are live fish imports illegal?
of live fish into Great Britain must be accompanied by a movement document/health
certificate attesting that the fish are healthy and free from disease. The
documents must be issued and signed by the veterinary authorities in the country
of origin. Prior notice must also be sent to CEFAS. Imports which fail
to meet these criteria are illegal.
Throughout the European Union there are ‘approved’ farms and
zones (EC directive 91/67) These are EC-designated areas which have been tested
for and shown to be free of certain of the most serious fish diseases. Great
Britain is currently an approved zone for VHS and IHN. Live fish may be legally
transferred between areas of equivalent status or when the supplying zone is of
a higher health status, provided the above procedure is complied with. Imports
which fail to comply contravene the provisions of the Fish Health Regulations
1997. There are also specific additional regulations to further protect UK
fish stocks against other serious diseases, such as Spring Viraemia of Carp, which
are prevalent on the continent.
How real is the threat of disease and environmental damage?
The dangers to indigenous fish of introducing diseased foreign imports may
be evidenced by the increasing number of unexplained diseases and mortalities
in our waters. Tests on fish found in previous interceptions of illegal consignments
have established that they carried a variety of diseases including SVC. Illegally
imported fish pose a very real problem which must be addressed if we are to reduce
the risk of spreading disease, and the possible demise of many of our waters. But
it is as much a question of what we don’t know about their long term impact,
as the obvious known risks.
The ecological effect of naturalised fish on native aquatic
communities was summarised by Taylor et al (1984) as follows:
Habitat alterations (e.g. through consumption or uprooting
Introduction of parasites, pathogens and diseases
Trophic alteration (e.g. by competition for food or predation)
Genetic degradation (e.g. through hybridisation)
What are the motives for illegally importing fish?
are large profits to be made by smugglers who steal fish, or purchase them cheaply
from non-approved sites on the continent and sell them to fisheries in the UK.
Similar profits can be made by fishery owners who impose high charges on anglers
who are prepared to pay to catch larger or different species of fish than may
otherwise be available.
What fish are we talking about?
Although carp, wels
catfish, sturgeon and zander are the obvious species, recent interceptions of
illegal imports have included roach, bream and various species of ornamental fish.
France, Belgium and Holland have been the traditional source countries for many
large coarse fish in the past. However, it is understood that fish have been smuggled
into the country recently from Eastern Europe where carp are not only plentiful,
but in less demand and therefore cheap.
Who’s doing it?
It is believed only a relatively
small number of individuals or groups are involved on a regular basis in organising
and arranging illegal imports. However, it is unlikely that they involve themselves
personally in the physical act of smuggling because they are known to employ others
to do it for them. These friends or associates, are known to use hired vans or
borrowed vehicles, seldom using their own transport for obvious reasons. It is
likely that a significant number of the fishing public know or suspect the identities
of many of the individuals who are regularly involved in organising illegal imports,
and the names of those waters which are prepared to introduce illegally imported
Why aren’t the smugglers caught more often?
main reason people are not caught more often is because it is a relatively simple
matter to smuggle fish in from the continent. The introduction of the European
free-trade legislation in 1993 made the practice significantly easier and we have
to accept that, at present live fish imports are unfortunately not a high priority
for either HM Customs or the police.
Historically, there has also been a failure on the part of
the authorities to acknowledge the potential for greater inter-agency co-operation
and coordination. This situation has since been largely addressed.
addition, there are the conflicting attitudes of anglers who, whilst they would
not wilfully do anything to harm indigenous fish stocks or the environment, effectively
do so by demanding to fish for large carp of dubious origin etc (without questioning
their origin). The controversy surrounding illegally imported fish is such that
there appears to be no consensus within the fisheries and angling fraternities
over the question of illegal imports. A united and determined approach by the
industry and the authorities would have a major impact on smuggling.
CEFAS has limited resources and illegal imports are only one of its many responsibilities.
There is no doubt that these resources could be deployed to better effect if more
detailed information was available on the activities of the smugglers.
is CEFAS doing about it?
CEFAS is attempting to combine a more robust
and imaginative approach to the problem of illegal imports with a more measured
long-term gathering of information and evidence, aimed at targeting those people
whose offending represents the greatest threat to our indigenous fish and to the
environment. Fish smuggling, fish thefts and illegal fish movements are often
closely linked and for this reason we are seeking to improve the levels of co-operation
and co-ordination between all of the relevant agencies. Our aim is not necessarily
to prosecute more offenders, but with the help of other agencies and the public
we aim to target and prosecute those people whose activities are likely to have
the greatest detrimental impact on fish health and the environment.
The CEFAS approach therefore includes the following measures:
closely with HM Customs, the Environment Agency, police forces, State Veterinary
Service and others to identify offenders.
Targeted operations against suspected offenders.
to establish the nature, extent and patterns of offending.
monitoring and inspections of imported fish from EU and third countries.
closely with other EU authorities to combat fish thefts and illegal movements.
A more structured approach to the problems surrounding illegal
imports and fish-movements generally. The introduction of the new Live Fish Movements
Database is an example of this approach. The system was developed by CEFAS, the
Environment Agency, the National Assembly for Wales Agriculture Department (NAWAD)
and the Department for Environment Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and provides
for all legitimate movements of fish to be recorded. Such a facility would be
of immense importance in the event of a major disease outbreak.
Seeking the views of the fishing public and those involved
in fish farming and fisheries management.
An open policy with the press and media to make the public
more aware of CEFAS’ aims and objectives. We also endeavour to candidly explain
problem areas such as illegal imports, and seek the assistance of the press to
inform the public of the potential dangers and threats involved, in an attempt
to reduce the market for smuggled foreign animals.
Confidential hot line number to encourage the public to contact
us with information.
Adoption of a more consistent common approach to all enforcement
of the efishbusiness internet site which sets out details of the relevant
legislation, the various procedures involved and other items of helpful information.
What assistance can the public provide?
A top priority
for CEFAS is to gather detailed, reliable information on illegal importers for
the purpose of intercepting such consignments and preventing further offences.
Members of the public are invited to pass any information they may have concerning
the smuggling of live fish into the UK to CEFAS.
Any information should be forwarded to CEFAS at the address
All information received at CEFAS will be treated in strict
01305-206681 (out of hours answer phone), 01305-206673 (main office)
E-mail – Fish.firstname.lastname@example.org