UK Laws on Keeping Exotic Fish

UK Laws on Keeping Exotic Fish

Fish can make wonderful pets. They don’t need to be walked in the rain, they come in a wide range of beautiful colours, shapes and sizes, and you can pass countless blissful and relaxing hours watching them swim hypnotically around a tank.

Naturally, however, ‘fish’ is a very broad term for pets. There is a big difference between a solitary goldfish in a bowl and a tank filled with exotic and imported aquatic animals. There are legal restrictions on which breeds of fish can be kept as pets under the Prohibition of Keeping and Release of Live Fish Order of 2014.

Let’s dig deeper into the legal implications of keeping tropical and exotic fish in the UK, including which species are protected by law.

Do You Need a License to Keep a Pet Fish in the UK?

Many common and popular fish can be kept without any kind of official licence. A golden rule is that if you can purchase a fish from a pet shop, they will not come with any particular restrictions.

However, many different breeds of fish require the use of an individual licence to keep as pets. Popular examples of this include the following:

  • Bass
  • Marbled Trout
  • Blue Bream
  • Sunfish
  • Various Species of Carp
  • Various Species of Perch

This is just the tip of the iceberg, however. There are numerous exotic fish that require an individual licence, and you will need to research this before bringing one into your home. Always check the legality of owning a fish that you may be interested in.

Additionally, some other fish families require a general licence to keep. Examples of these include Catfish, Fathead Minnows and Sturgeons. As always, it is best to check with a professional before bringing any kind of adopted fish into your home.

Fish are Protected by the Animal Welfare Act of 2006

Yes, fish are afforded the same rights and protections under this act as dogs, cats and other popular domestic companions. If you decide to keep exotic fish as pets, you will be held responsible for their welfare and must display a duty of care towards the species.

This does not just mean that you have to feed your fish and clean their tank or pond. You will also be duty-bound to ensure that the fish enjoy a sufficient quality of life, and that you understand the implications of keeping them as pets.

This could include ensuring that any species of fish can live together in harmony. Some fish may fight, or even eat each other. In addition, you must understand the difference in habitat needs between different fish. Freshwater fish will need to be kept at a different temperature to cold water fish, for example. If in doubt about what fish may successfully and happily live together, consult a professional.

Fish may seem like a simple pet at first, but you may have a lot of homework to do before bringing them into your home and family. If you are a newcomer to the world of exotic fish, start small and seek professional advice as much as possible.

Some Fish Breeds Cannot Share a Tank with Others

Another critical element of caring for exotic fish is knowing what breeds can happily live side by side. Some of the things that must be kept in mind are:

  • Ensure that all the fish thrive in the same water pH. Freshwater fish and tropical fish are used to very different levels of alkaline in their water.
  • Never group freshwater fish with saltwater fish. They will need different levels of filtration.
  • Match up fish of similar sizes and with similar eating habits. If you have a bigger fish populating the same tank as a smaller species, the latter may grow intimidated and feel they cannot get their fair share of the food. A large fish may even eat a smaller species, given the opportunity.
  • Don’t pair an aggressive species with a docile one. Believe it or not, some fish can be big bullies. Cichlids are a common example of ‘bully breed.’
  • Don’t just have one species of each fish. These animals like to live in schools and draw comfort from sharing their space with familiar faces and fins.
  • Check the sex of your fish, and learn the best possible combinations based on gender. Some popular exotic species, such as a male Bretta, are very dominant and forceful if they are forced to share a tank with other males.

If you are not aware of the requirements of any particular fish breed, consult a professional before bringing them home. A fish kept with the wrong tank mates or in the wrong conditions can easily become stressed, and stressed fish often grow unwell – sometimes fatally.

Are Any Fish Species Banned in the UK?

The following fish cannot be brought into the country without special dispensation from the government, as they are considered to be invasive species.

  • All breeds of Crayfish
  • Chinese Sleeper (aka Amur Sleeper)
  • Stone Moroko (aka Topmouth Gudgeon)

Technically, no breed of fish is outright banned in the U.K. as a permit to keep these species can be applied for. However, you will need an extremely compelling argument to request such a fish as a private enthusiast!

If you do have a reason to bring these fish into your collection, contact your local authority to discuss the possibility of a permit.

Can I Import Other, Legal Fish to Keep as a Pet in the UK?

The Import of Live Fish Act places restrictions upon what fish can be brought into the UK, and from where. You will need to apply for a permit from the government to keep a non-native species of fish in a tank or pond on your property.

Contact your local authority before making any purchase of exotic fish from overseas to ensure that you are complying with the law. Also, always ensure that you are trading with a legitimate and professional breeder.

Can Freshwater Fish Caught with a Rod be Kept as Pets?

This is legal provided you obey the local bylaws of your area. This means that you must be fishing with an allowed area with a rod, line and approved bait within the designated fishing season. Obviously, you will also need to hold a valid fishing permit.

There may also be varying local bylaws on what size of fish you are permitted to remove from freshwater. Check with your local authority if you have any questions about this and ensure that you are operating within the confines of the law. Also, be aware this is only legal if you are fishing for individual bites, using a rod and line. The act of using a net to remove multiple fish from freshwater at once is prohibited.

Can a Pet Fish be Released into the Wild?

No, this illegal – and potentially very cruel. Fish that are used to being kept as pets are not cut out for life in wild waters. They will not understand the dangers inherent with such surroundings and may struggle to find food. They will also have grown accustomed to living in heated water, so without this the fish may go into shock and die. A fish is a pet for life, not until they grow too large for their current tank or you lose interest in caring for them.

How to Dispose of a Dead Exotic Fish

Like all living beings, exotic and tropical fish have a finite lifespan. This could be anything from five to twenty-five years, depending on the species.

If the end has come for one of your tropical fish, remove them from the tank and change the water immediately. A dead fish may quickly rot and cause infection for the rest of the fish.

When you’re ready to dispose of the body, don’t just flush it down the loo. That’s cold, cruel, and unhygienic. The best approach is burial, though you will need to dig fairly deep to ensure that local cats or dogs do not smell the fish and dig it up. Eating the fish could leave a domestic pet sick. You should wear gloves throughout the process for the same reason.

Another option is to place the fish into your rubbish, though again this may feel a little cold. If you decide to take this route, wrap the fish in newspaper or something else, and place it in a padded envelope. You may also want to spray some perfume inside the envelope. Remember, a dead fish can smell very pungent – you will not want to leave that scent laying around in your bin.



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