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Putting the bite on prohibited fish.

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20 April 2007

AQIS 20710

Something fishy has been happening in recent weeks for officers of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS).

The crime ‘wave’ began in Western Australia in February, when a Perth man was convicted for illegally importing four aquarium fish.

A week or so later, a 45-year-old woman was fined more than $30,000 for attempting to smuggle 51 exotic aquarium fish through Melbourne airport.

Then a Brisbane aquarium fish importer learned the hard way that Australia takes quarantine very seriously when he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for attempting to smuggle prohibited fish into the country.

The sentence - the first time a custodial penalty has been handed down for a quarantine offence - followed a two-year investigation into allegations that the 36-year-old was attempting to import prohibited fish.

And last week AQIS officers were called to an Adelaide residence to help investigate allegations that an ornamental fish collection contained prohibited species. The raid netted a spectacular specimen - a fully grown red piranha weighing 2.5 kilograms and measuring a whopping 40 centimetres long.

In the end there was no evidence this piranha had been illegally imported - in fact, the size of the fish (red piranhas can live up to 20 years) means it could only have grown in captivity. The species’ fearsome reputation makes it attractive to collectors, and in recent years State and Territory wildlife agencies have seized a number of captive-bred piranhas.

All four cases illustrate the importance of Australia’s quarantine laws. Prohibited fish could introduce exotic viruses, fungi or parasites that could threaten Australia’s native fish and amphibians and aquaculture industries. Escaped aquarium fish could also prey on native species, compete for food or destroy river and lake habitats.

Media contact: Carson Creagh, Phone: 02 8334 7645, Mobile: 0414 577 472

Images of AQIS officer Melissa Danielse with a red piranha.

Photo's by Peter Watkins, courtesy Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service