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Marine Animals: Biodiversity

Volume 481: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what his latest assessment is of the effect that non-native species are having on the UK’s marine environment and freshwater fisheries; and if he will make a statement. (228076)

Novel alien species continue to appear in UK waters. Pathways include entry via commercial shipping (e.g. hull fouling, ballast water transfers) and the pet trade (aquarium and garden pond plants and animals released by the general public to open waters). The complexity of the aquatic environment means the impact of non-native fish introductions on our freshwater fisheries is often difficult to detect.

It has long been recognised that the spread of non-native species can have far-reaching and undesirable ecological consequences for animal and plant communities in the marine environment and freshwater fisheries. Introduced non-native fish can have direct effects on native species, for example by predation, competition (for space and food) hybridisation (inter-breeding), or can upset the natural balance that operates between native species. Non-native species can also introduce and spread novel diseases and parasites to which our native species may have little or no resistance.

Once established it can be extremely difficult and costly, and in some cases impossible, to control or eradicate an invasive species. While not all introduced non-native species will become invasive, they can still have adverse impacts. Given this, and the fact that their precise impact can be unpredictable, a precautionary approach is appropriate for managing the keeping and release of such species.

My Department recognises the threats that non-native species can pose to marine and freshwater environments and has supported the development of risk analysis protocols to identify introduced species of potentially high risk, and where possible to assess in advance the impacts posed by these species. Following on from the DEFRA review of non-native species policy, a body has now been established, the GB Non-native Species Mechanism, to review the problems posed by non-native species and, as appropriate, to co-ordinate control and eradication measures by the appropriate agencies.

The key measure in controlling the spread of non-native fish has been the Import of Live Fish Act (ILFA). Under the ILFA Orders it is illegal to keep or release any of the listed species in any water (including tanks and ponds) without a licence. Any person wishing to hold, keep or release any of the listed species is required to be in possession of a licence before obtaining the fish. Some introductions of species already present in England and Wales are allowed, where there is demonstrable benefits and there is no risk to the wider environment. But, there is a presumption against approving consents for the introduction of new non-native populations.

In Wales the Welsh Assembly Government are looking into reintroducing consents under the Molluscan Shellfish (Control of Deposit) Order 1974 to attempt to prevent accidental introductions and the countryside council for Wales along with the main mussel producers in the Menai Straits have produced a code of good practice to avoid introductions. The countryside council for Wales have also distributed ‘wanted cards’ to help identify 8 marine non-native invasive species.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he is taking to (a) prevent non-native invasive species entering the UK and (b) remove non-native invasive species already present in the UK; and if he will make a statement. (228077)

DEFRA and the devolved administrations operate regimes which aim to prevent the entry of certain non-native species into the UK, such as inspections under plant health legislation. In the course of their work DEFRA’s plant health and seeds inspectors and their equivalents in the devolved administrations inspect consignments of plants and plant products to ensure that they are free of non-native plant pests and diseases of concern.

However some non-native species legitimately used, for example in horticulture, as pets or in research can also have the potential to become invasive. It is important therefore to prevent their introduction into the wild. In May, jointly with the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly Government, my Department published the Invasive Non-Native Species Framework Strategy for Great Britain. This sets out our proposals for more effective and better co-ordinated action to tackle invasive non-native species. Prevention of the introduction of such species into the wild is one of the key themes to which other parts of the strategy will also contribute. In addition to existing measures such as legislative controls under wildlife and fisheries legislation we plan to implement a structured programme of work on raising awareness and education both generally and in a targeted way, developing effective risk analysis capacity, implementing online reporting with improved surveillance and monitoring, and to develop capacity to respond quickly to future threats.

Management of invasive species already established in the UK must be considered on a case by case approach which will take into account the feasibility and scale at which action could effectively be taken. The Strategy offers a framework for such decision-making at a national scale. Control options will vary from national, regional or local eradication to management or containment.

Northern Ireland is working with the Republic of Ireland on a similarly strategic approach.