Will snakeheads be banned in the EU?

On Saturday I had a preview of the latest “improvement” in the EU-wide list of prohibited invasive animal and plant species. The third revision is now imminent, and yet again aquarium and pond plants are scheduled to be banned, specifically Gymnocoronis spilanthoides (Senegal Tea Plant), Hygrophila polysperma (Dwarf Hygrophila), Salvinia molesta (Giant Salvinia), and Pistia stratiotes (Water Lettuce). (Source: http://ornamentalfish.org/channa-spotlight-eu-ban/). Plus the entire genus Channa (snakeheads)! We can’t let this happen. And how come the relevant interested parties in the aquarium hobby once again haven’t been consulted in advance? How can it happen under a democratic constitution that dictatorial decrees in the form of emergency legislation can be enacted without the interests of affected parties being considered in the least?

Of course two species of snakeheads do have the potential to become invasive in Europe, but so far there is no indication of this actually happening. The two species are Channa argus and Channa maculata. In the case of Channa argus there was a deliberate attempt at introduction in Czechoslovakia in 1957, but it came to nothing (Lusk, S., Luskova, V., & Hanel, L. (2010). Alien fish species in the Czech Republic and their impact on the native fish fauna. Folia Zoologica, 59 (1), 57-72.) For this reason the danger of one of the two species, or their hybrid, becoming invasive in Europe must be classed as extremely small, even though they have become a nuisance in the USA. Moreover neither of the two species is present in significant numbers in the pet trade, and even specialists like myself, with excellent connections with the wholesale trade, who would love to have a few specimens for photographic purposes, are unable to get hold of any.

This photo of Channa maculata is easily 15 years old. I would like to have a few specimens again, in order to be able to take better, up-to-date photos, but can’t get hold of any.

It still isn’t too late. Please approach your local EU representatives and make them aware that such a radical approach as banning an entire genus of fishes, when there is only a tiny risk that a couple of individual species might become becoming invasive, is totally disproportionate. And that likewise the planned ban on aquarium plants is sheer madness that discredits the politicians responsible and shows a lack of consideration for those affected by the legislation. Some of the species in question have been in the hobby continuously since World War II and have never yet shown signs of becoming anything approaching invasive in Europe – for example Indian Waterweed and Water Lettuce, both of which cannot survive even a slight frost unharmed.

The forthcoming volume of the Aqualog Bookazines, currently in preparation, has snakeheads as its cover story. There are still snakeheads in the hobby. We can only advise everyone to stock up with as many species as possible as quickly as possible – just in case…

Frank Schäfer


About the author Frank Schäfer

Biologist Frank Schäfer, born in 1964, has had a passion for keeping animals and plants since his earliest childhood. Right from the start his particular interest has been fishes, but he is also fascinated by reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, small mammals, and birds, as well as a multitude of plants...

Since 1980 he has been a member of the Verein für Aquarien- und Terrarienkunde Hottonia e.V. (Hottonia Aquarium and Terrarium Society), where since 1982 he has also repeatedly been a member of the committee (Garden Curator, Editor of the society's journal, First Secretary); since 1982 a member of the Internationalen Gemeinschaft für Labyrinthfische (IGL, International Labyrinthfish Society) and since 1992 the European Anabantoid Club (EAC) as well. His first articles, on the maintenance and breeding of Puntius vittatus, Macropodus opercularis, Trionyx ferox, and Polypterus senegalus, appeared in the Hottonia-Post in 1981; his first major fish-collecting trip to the Tropics was in 1983, to Sumatra, resulting in numerous articles in the Hottonia-Post, the magazines Der Makropode and Das Aquarium; from then on regular publications in numerous aquarium magazines, both national and international. In addition for many years he has given several illustrated presentations annually at national and international conferences.

He studied biology in Darmstadt from 1984-1989, leading to a Diploma in Biology with examination papers in zoology, botany, ecology, and psychology. His thesis (under Professor. Ragnar Kinzelbach) was on the topic of the host specificity of the glochidia of Anodonta anatina.

He has made numerous fishing, collecting, and research trips to other European countries, Turkey, Zambia, and above all India; the focus of his research has been the freshwater ichthyofauna of the Ganges with the goal of a complete revision of the work of Francis Hamilton (1822): An account of the fishes found in the river Ganges and its branches. Edinburgh & London. He published the original scientific description of Oreichthys crenuchoides and, together with Ulrich Schliewen, that of Polypterus mokelembembe. He has made research visits to and worked for short periods in the zoological collections of London, Paris, Brussels, Tervuren, Vienna, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich.

From 1996 to the present he has been editor at Aqualog and scientist responsible for fish identification at Aquarium Glaser, Rodgau. During this period he has been author or co-author of more than 20 books and more than 400 major articles, not just at Aqualog but at practically all German-language publishers in the field, as well as occasionally in international publications. Since 2009 he has been responsible for the website and Newsletter at Aquarium Glaser, with 3-5 posts per week. He remains passionate about keeping animals and plants, right across the board: aquarium (fresh water and marine), terrarium, pond keeping, and small birds.

Frank Schäfer is married and has two daughters, born in 1989 and 1991.

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