Australian Government announces major changes to importing ornamental fish

In September 2008, Biosecurity Australia announced the formal commencement of an Import Risk Analysis (IRA) under the regulated IRA process to review Australia’s freshwater ornamental finfish policy with respect to quarantine risks associated with Gourami Iridovirus (GIV) or Megalocytivirus. The IRA covered the gourami family (including dwarf gouramis, paradise fish and Siamese bettas) cichlids (including Lake Malawi’s, Lake Tanganyikan’s, angelfish, discus and oscars) and all poeciliids (including guppies, mollies, platys and swordtails).

Two weeks ago (8th September 2014), the Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine released the final report and has determined that the importation for ornamental purposes of fish belonging to the subfamilies Luciocephalinae and Macropodusinae (a.k.a. Macropodinae) within the family Osphronemidae (which includes gouramis, bettas and paradise fish), the family Cichlidae and the family Poeciliidae will only be permitted into Australia if the fish:

(1) are sourced from an approved compartment, zone or country free from the Megalocytivirus or have been batch-tested negative for the virus prior to export under the supervision of an approved overseas competent authority, and

(2) are subject to the existing baseline quarantine measures applied to all freshwater ornamental fish, including post-arrival detention in quarantine-approved premises for at least 7 days.

An official health certificate issued by the approved overseas competent authority must accompany each consignment of fish starting March 1 2015.

The IRA also recommends that imported consignments of these fish species are subject to an on-going program of random post-arrival verification testing for Megalocytivirus as a means of monitoring the effectiveness of overseas systems that underpin attestations about batch testing or source population disease freedom. These measures are designed to limit quarantine risk to a level that is acceptably low to achieve Australia’s appropriate level of protection.

The full IRA can be found on the Department of Agriculture website here.

In summary, the report states that starting March 1st 2015, all cichlids, gouramis and poeciliids as listed above will require to be accompanied by a new health certificate to state that they are free of Megalocytivirus. Initial estimates of $2000 per test have been suggested, which will increase the landed costs for all importers. The fish most likely to be affected are those that are imported in low volumes, such as the large cichlids and gouramis and many of the wild fishes imported in low volumes. This is because to conduct the test and determine the fish are disease free, the overseas exporter will need a certain number of fish of each species to be sampled for the testing protocol and it is most likely that the Australian importers will have to pay for the fish sampled and the fees for the actual tests. For example, if the importer orders 20 fish, 19 will need to be sacrificed for sampling, 31 of 40, 45 of 100 and 51 of 200 to a maximum of 59 out of 4108 fish ordered PER SPECIES. In some cases an importer can have over 50 species in a single shipment. Unfortunately this will result in the loss of some fish from our industry based on economic decisions of receiving 1 of the 20 fish ordered. Aquarium Industries are currently working very hard with our suppliers and the overseas governments to try and determine the impact of these tests.

Aquarium Industries along with other importers have lobbied the government about these changes but to no avail, however we do not want to see these fish lost from the industry. As a result, we will be placing a number of large orders with our suppliers over the coming 2-3 months to ensure everyone can order these much loved fish before they possibly are never imported again. Our first such large order will be a Glaser shipment from Germany in October. Check out the fishes that are available and contact your LFS so they can reserve these fishes for you. Please contact your LFS before October 8th.
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