To start with could you explain to our French readership, what CEFAS is and its role in the UK?
Jon Holland – Senior Fish Health Inspector
CEFAS is the competent authority in England & Wales for the prevention of the spread of notifiable diseases in fish in the wild and in aquaculture. Notifiable diseases are very serious, cause large scale mortality and are generally untreatable. We monitor the health of fish in all of our rivers, lakes and fish farms. This includes all carp fisheries.
Many French anglers remember the case of carp being discovered in a lorry at Dover in 2010. Could you explain what happened, the numbers of carp involved and the damage they could have caused?
In February 2010 CEFAS Inspectors were called to Dover docks to intercept a lorry that had been pulled over by the UK Border Agency. We had some very patchy intelligence to suggest that there may be a shipment of large carp due to be imported illegally from France, but had very little detail. A lorry was stopped because the Officer had noted that it had been out to France for less than 24 hours and had cited paper milling machinery as its cargo in both directions which was very unusual.
Upon inspection 4 tanks were found hidden behind the machinery in the trailer unit. Each tank had its own oxygen supply and was wrapped in layers of black polythene. The tanks of around 1m square contained up to 40 fish. 120 fish were found in total. The smallest was 14.5kg, the largest was 27.5kg. Most of them were around 16-17kg.
The fish were humanely euthanized and tested for disease. In this case the fish had no signs of any notifiable disease (specifically Spring Viraemia of Carp). However many shipments that we have stopped in the past have been carrying the virus.
The United Kingdom is declared free from SVC and as such has very strict controls over any live fish that are imported into the country. Any fish that are susceptible to SVC must come from a country that is tested free from the virus and they must be accompanied by a health certificate signed by an officer from the competent authority in the country of origin.
In France SVC is not notifiable (the same as in most countries in continental Europe). The disease is too widespread to try and eradicate and because it’s been in the waters for generations, most French carp will carry a certain level of immunity to the virus. Wild fish stocks in the UK are completely naive to the virus and any infection brought in from Europe would spread very quickly and decimate the populations of wild fish (SVC also kills Pike, Crucian Carp, Tench, Rudd and Grass Carp). The knock on effect of a loss of our SVC free status would be the collapse of our own carp farming industry.
We would like to thank you for having accepted our invitation to meet with us and the FNPF and present the problems that this scourge that is carp trafficking can cause. What do you think about and take away from this the meeting?
The meeting in Paris was an excellent opportunity for all of the interested parties to come together and present the problems from our own perspective. I don’t think many anglers in France realize how much a 25kg carp is worth on the black market in the UK. Because of this high value, the practice of smuggling or trafficking is attracting highly organized criminal gangs who have dealings in drugs, money laundering and weapons. These are nasty intimidating people, often with a serious criminal background.
CEFAS and UNCL actively working to curb this scourge.
CEFAS have historically had a hard time getting any of the French authorities to listen to the problem from our point of view, so the meeting in Paris was our golden opportunity to get our point across. Thanks to the links we already have with UNCL/CATAC, we were able to secure a seat at the table.
I hope that as an outcome of the meeting, the general feeling will be that we can all work together to be much more effective in stopping the trafficking.
With regard to the carp that manage to make it into Britain, what sort of prices do the fetch?
A 20 kg can make £8 to £12k, a 25kg carp can make up to £15-20k in the UK. For 30kg+ its name your price.
What would you say to support the work of the UNCL and CATAC?
The UNCL/CATAC are undertaking a vital role in France – Obviously from my point of view, there is the potential to work together to make sure that big French carp stay in France for everyone to enjoy. But of, course as in any country, anglers need a collective voice. In the UK we have the Angling Trust. If UNCL can be the voice for French carp anglers, then that is very good news. History has shown us in the UK that a few anglers’ voices trying to get things changed at a ministerial level has absolutely no effect whatsoever. But if you can have a single professionally run body that represents the voices of tens of thousands of fishermen, then you can really get things changed for the better.
What health risks are posed by the movement of carp into the UK?
As I have already mentioned, SVC is widespread in France and the rest of continental Europe. The virus poses little threat apart from the occasional outbreak. In the UK the virus was eradicated fully in 2010 and there have been no outbreaks since. Outbreaks in aquaculture result in complete eradication of the infected sites. In the wild, eradication is the preferred option, but obviously not always possible due to the size of the water in question. The Controls that UK have against importation of Carp from areas with SVC protect not only our wild stocks but also our aquaculture industry. Without the controls, people would be free to import carp from anywhere without any health certificates. This would be catastrophic and would destroy the UK aquaculture industry overnight.
Who finances your investigations and the FHI in general, the state?
The Fish Health Inspectorate are funded entirely by the UK Government
What are your objectives with regard to the fish trafficking?
Our objective is simple. To stop the trafficking. In an ideal world, these fish wouldn’t even reach UK shores. The fines in France for Trafficking are far, far higher than in the UK and would act as a much bigger deterrent to would be smugglers. If you consider the load mentioned earlier from 2010 stopped at Dover. Those responsible were fine £5000 – barely the value of one fish. If that load had been stopped in France and successfully prosecuted under your trafficking law – that would have been about €3.2 million!
I am obviously keen to work with any French organization to make sure that big French Carp remain in French waters. The worst outcome for all concerned is that the fish end up in the UK where they will have to be killed. If they are stopped before then (for instance at Calais or Coquelles), we stand a chance of being able to return them to where they came from, and we will be able to prosecute under UK law (intent to commit an offence) and your trafficking law. When the punishment fits the crime, then we may stand a chance of stopping the trade.
These 4 tanks held 120 carp!
The next AGM of the UNCL, will be held in late 2014. Several Federations have been invited along with other bodies. We would very much like to invite you to this meeting through this interview. Would you be willing to present your work to the assembly?
Aeration of the tanks …
CEFAS and the UNCL (CATAC) have created a working partnership, others are in discussion. Do you think that this sort of cooperation could become Europe wide?
That has to be our ultimate goal. Fish aren’t just being stolen from France. It’s happening in Germany, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, and Romania to name but a few. A Europe wide intelligence network for Fishery Crime would be fantastic but we also have to be realistic. It isn’t high up many governments list of priorities and it’s a hard struggle to get anyone to listen. I have been coming to France for 14 years to try and get an audience with anyone in any of the French Authorities that are concerned with fishing and the environment. I am very grateful to UNCL/CATAC for inviting us to the meeting on the 5th February and helping to get our side of the story across. If we can do this across the rest of Europe then that’s even better!