Alien fish invasion: Local importers at fault

ROSLI ZAKARIA

KUALA TERENGGANU: Dishonest importers who manipulate procedures are to be blamed for the entry of banned fish species into the country.

They bring in the banned species with those allowed by wrongfully declaring import documents.

Some fish like the pacu, which is closely related to the piranha family, or the Chao Phraya high fin giant catfish (Pangasius sanitwongsei) which looks like the local patin, would be difficult to identify when it is small.

The similar appearance can dupe anyone into thinking that these fishes are safe to be grown in the aquarium until they become large enough to be identified as predatory or banned species.

Unless Customs officers stationed at entry points are trained to visually detect banned species, chances are it will go through and end up in the many water bodies nationwide.

Sources close to the ornamental fish industry said there were not many importers of fish species because of the stringent process of obtaining a licence from the Fisheries Department.

“But huge profits made from high price tags on predatory species attract many to the illegal trade,” he said, adding that many end up borrowing, sharing or using the licence of others to bring in their stock.

“At the end of the day, when the fish arrives, they will still need the services of agents or handlers to clear the fish at the Customs checkpoints.

“This is where dishonesty becomes a factor that enables fishes in the banned list to get cleared.

“Fish can also be smuggled in luggage, mineral water bottles, thermos flasks and plastic bags at border checkpoints.

“Some of these smugglers also come prepared by manipulating the labelling of the species and declaring much lower prices for a banned or exotic species,” the source said.

Unless the loopholes are plugged — indigenous fish in Malaysia will continue to be threatened.

Banned foreign species also bring about diseases that can destroy the population of aquatic life in natural water bodies where they are released.