The spread of non-native fish species can have far-reaching and undesirable ecological consequences for animal and plant communities in rivers and lakes. Introduced non-native fish can have direct effects on native species; by predation or by upsetting the natural balance that operates between species. They can also introduce and spread diseases and parasites to which our native species may have no resistance. Zander and Signal Crayfish are good examples of non-native introductions that have already harmed native species.
It is therefore vital that if we are to protect native species and their habitat and conserve the unique diversity of animal and plant life in our rivers and still-waters that we restrict the spread of non-native fish species.
Previous controls have not been entirely successful in preventing the unauthorised spread of non-native fish to many waters in England and Wales. New measures (set out in the Prohibition of Keeping or Release of Live Fish (Specified Species) Order 1998) have therefore been introduced to reduce direct effects on native fish and their habitat and to make it easier to prevent illegal movements of non-native species.
These measures came into force on 1st November 1998 under the Import of Live Fish (England and Wales) Act (1980) and make it an offence to release and/or keep specified non-native fish species without a licence.
Species covered by the Order
The Order makes it illegal to keep or release any of the species listed into any water (including tanks and ponds) without a licence. The list includes non-native freshwater fish species already known to be present in the UK in the wild, non-native cold-water species being kept for ornamental purposes and certain other non-native species thought to have the potential to survive and possibly thrive in the wild in the UK. New species may be added to the list if these are considered to be a potential threat.
Who needs a Licence?
Any person intending to hold, keep or release any of the listed species 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 new Order came into force should have applied for a licence by 1st May 1999. Anyone who has not yet applied is advised to do so as soon as possible.
All those wishing to keep 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 (other than aquaria on retail or wholesale premises) are covered by a general licence and need not apply for individual licences. The general licence for Ameiurid (Ictalurid) Catfish will be reviewed in 2003.
A licensee must ensure that anyone to whom he wishes to sell or give any listed fish is first in possession of an appropriate licence, otherwise they may be committing an offence. Licence holders will also have to keep accurate records of fish movements. Other conditions may relate to site security, such as the fitting and maintenance of screens on 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 and dealers, and will also be considered for fisheries on a case-by-case basis. Licences will generally be valid for an indefinite period, except where circumstances or conditions dictate. Licences will be issued free of charge by DEFRA or the National Assembly for Wales.