The Issues

ECHO and imported fish

Whilst ECHO openly admits that many of our history fish were imported as small fingerlings many years ago, it is the recent importation of carp and other coarse fish from across Europe is one that is of great concern. Times have changed and we now have more knowledge of the potential risks involved with the movement of carp and coarse fish into the UK, whether legally or illegally carried out.

Illegal Imports

The illegal importation of carp and other coarse fish is of greatest concern to ECHO for many reasons. Firstly the fish have undergone NO health checks or documentation whatsoever prior to being introduced to UK waters. Illegal imports pose a significant threat of serious fish disease outbreaks, which could threaten the future of angling, the livelihoods of many fishery and fish owners, the livelihoods of angling associated businesses, and the destruction of millions of our native fish. This disease threat not only puts the recipient fishery and its fish stocks at risk from the diseases that may be introduced with the illegal fish but all those other fisheries that are in the same river catchment area or flood plain. Many of the major disease threats to our native stocks are covered elsewhere on the site.

The illegal fish are likely to have been transported in poor conditions causing extreme levels of stress and may even lead to the death of high numbers of the fish whilst in transit from Europe. This traumatic movement, and subsequent damage to the fish, may also leave them vulnerable to diseases or parasites that they are exposed to once introduced into the water in the UK.

Once in UK waters the illegal fish are often introduced into fisheries that are to small to enable the fish to maintain their natural weight and to allow natural healthy growth. This is due to the fact that these fish are often originally from large and extremely rich environments commonly found in Europe. Often these illegal imports lose condition and have a relatively short life span once introduced to UK fisheries due to the poor environment and extreme angling pressure they are exposed too. Once these fish have died the fishery owner often acquires further illegal fish from abroad to keep their membership full thus restarting the threat of serious disease introduction into the UK.

The fact that these illegal fish are often stolen from European angling waters means that the Europeans are now having to go further afield to obtain fish legally to replace those that are lost. Specific areas of Europe have certain types of diseases that are endemic and the movement of fish from country to country within Europe poses a great threat to the nieve fish that have not been exposed to these new diseases and this may lead to huge fish mortalities across Europe.

Legal Imports

Due to the regulations of free trade it is impossible to consider the total banning of all imports of fish into the UK and ECHO has never tried to do so. What ECHO considers to be vital is the implementation of more rigorous legislation regarding the importation of all fish into the UK.

Legitimate fish must undergo a health check to some extent but often these can be fabricated so diseased fish may be imported legally. Only Spring Viraemia of Carp (SVC) is routinely inspected for at the original source of the fish. Many other potentially devastating diseases are not checked for at all and it is this area that ECHO feels needs further legislation being brought into law.

Often "additional" and non-health checked species of fish may be shipped with the documented legal fish as a means of making extra profit for the importer. Many cases of this have been seen in recent years where carp and other coarse fish have been added to a legal consignment of ornamental fish.
More rigorous investigation of all legal consignments of fish, whether coarse or ornamental, is essential to prevent this but is only achievable with additional revenue being made available to CEFAS who are responsible for inspecting such shipments.

Ornamental fish imports are also a direct threat to our native stocks due to such diseases as Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) which, if introduced to UK fisheries, could have a huge potential to cause widespread fish mortalities. Again further screening for such diseases is essential in an attempt to protect our native stocks especially now that KHV has been discovered in UK fisheries.

An area of exploration ECHO is pursing is the possibility of size limitations on the coarse fish that are allowed to be legally imported into the UK. This is due to the fact that many large carp imported legally are often fish that have been acquired from a different water to that of fish in the main shipment from the fish farm that have been health certificated. These big fish are simply added to the shipment prior to transportation and claimed to have been reared on the farm site. This again poses a huge threat to our native stocks by introducing a novel disease to the UK fishery. It is ECHOs understanding that very few, if any, recognised and health certified European fish farms grow fish in excess of 35lbs so fish above this size legally imported are often of dubious origin and not from the approved sites required by CEFAS.

ECHO and fish movements within the UK

Whilst not one of ECHO's primary objectives this is an area which must be investigated further and more thoroughly. Any illegal internal movement of coarse fish within the UK has the potential to cause disease outbreaks, especially Spring Carp Mortality Syndrome outbreaks, along with the potential of introducing novel parasites to a water that has never been exposed too such. An area of concern to ECHO is the introduction of ornamental species into coarse fisheries due to the threat posed to our native stocks by KHV. In addition to this is the illegal theft of carp from fisheries, which again means the fish are moved without consent and are not health checked prior to being introduced.
Recently the Environment Agency, who are responsible for consenting and auditing fish movements within England and Wales, have created a new 'Fisheries Enforcement' Team that will specifically investigate internal fish movements. ECHO will be assisting this team in any manner possible with regards to illegal fish movements by acting as a point of contact where details of suspicious movements or potential fish thefts can be passed onto the EA.

As you can see their are many issues and threats that the sport we know and love faces. From what you have just read hopefully you can now see the reason why ECHO is here and hopefully you will now lend your weight to the cause.