Exotic fish trade

The ornamental fish industry in Australia — which includes traders, fish breeders, retail outlets and the hobby industry — is estimated to be worth $350 million a year.

Aquarium fish make great pets, but if they are released into the wild they can pose a serious threat to Australia's aquatic biodiversity.

What are the laws?

The import of live animals (including ornamental fish) into Australia is controlled by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), administered by the Department of the Environment. These laws apply to all importers of live exotic animals.

What are the import requirements?

Only fish listed on the list of specimens taken to be suitable for live import (the live import list) can be imported into Australia. You should be aware that species not listed on the live import list are prohibited imports. People importing and keeping them may need to demonstrate lawful import.

A number of fish that are listed on the live import list have minimum size restrictions. As there are several accepted measurements of fish size, the department has made a decision to measure live fish imports using the Standard Length (SL) measurement.

All fish listings on the live import list, that include a size limit or restriction, use Standard Length (SL) to determine size.

Standard length (SL) refers to the length of a fish measured from the tip of the snout to the posterior end of the last vertebra or to the posterior end of the midlateral portion of the hypural plate. Simply put, this measurement excludes the length of the caudal fin (FishBase.org).

The following diagram demonstrates the standard measurement that is used at the border to determine legal import of fish listed with size limits/restriction on the live import list.

Measuring fish length

Source: FishXing, US Forest Service

The Department of the Environment also manages applications to amend the live import list to include animals.

Other laws controlling the import of live aquarium fish

Every import into Australia has the potential to introduce new pests and diseases. To minimise this risk, the Department of Agriculture - Biosecurity (DAFF Biosecurity) has established a range of quarantine procedures under the Quarantine Act 1908. Before considering the import of any species, you will need to contact DAFF Biosecurity to determine what permits you will be required to obtain. Information on the DAFF Biosecurity procedures and requirements for the live import of ornamental fish can be found on their website.

National strategy for ornamental fish

Ornamental fish and aquarium plants are sometimes dumped or released, often making their way into our waterways. This has resulted in a number of non-native fish species which are not on the live import list, establishing a presence in Australia and seriously affecting the biodiversity of our freshwater systems.

A report, A strategic approach to the management of ornamental fish in Australia. Communication strategy and grey list review - a report to OFMIG - 2010 has been produced and published by the Bureau of Rural Sciences.

In 2006 the national strategy, A strategic approach to the management of ornamental fish in Australia, was approved by the Australian, state and territory governments through the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council (NRMMC). It contains a list of noxious ornamental aquarium fish species that the states and territories have agreed to control through legislation. The report also contains a 'grey list' of species which require further assessment.

Implementation of the national strategy is overseen by the national Freshwater Fish Working Group that reports to the Vertebrate Pest Committee. The Freshwater Fish Working Group seeks to provide regular updates on its work and implementation of the strategy for industry, hobbyists and other interested stakeholders.

National Ornamental Fish Risk Assessment

In May 2014, the Vertebrate Pest Committee endorsed a risk assessment tool that will be applied to the current grey list of species to determine each species level of pest-risk.

Assessing the risks associated with the Australian trade in live ornamental fish species: development of a risk assessment tool (PDF - 772.1 KB) | (DOCX - 201.44 KB)

National ornamental fish management updates

National ornamental fish management update - August 2014 (PDF - 85.62 KB) | (DOCX - 158.21 KB)

National ornamental fish management update - June 2014 (PDF - 88.75 KB) | (DOCX - 92.98 KB)

National ornamental fish management update - April 2014 (PDF - 81.86 KB) | (DOC - 942.5 KB)

Archived national ornamental fish management updates pre 2011

National ornamental fish management update - May 2010 (PDF - 3.48 MB) | (DOCX - 308.53 KB)

National ornamental fish management update - June 2010 (PDF - 232.34 KB) | (DOCX - 304.93 KB)

National ornamental fish management update - November 2010 (PDF - 172.77 KB) | (DOCX - 306.26 KB)