Are Arowana Banned In Australia? Which Arowanas And Why?

Ask any aquarist and I’m sure they’ll agree that the mighty Arowana has to be top of, or at least in the top three, of any most coveted fish in the world list. But did you know some Arowana fish are banned in Australia?

Are Asian Arowana fish banned in Australia? You cannot import, or own, any of the various types of Arowana in any of the six states of Australia. This is mainly due to them being a threat to the continent’s river systems if they are dumped there by irresponsible owners.

These fish are large freshwater fish, up to 3 feet in length, majestic in coloration, and absolutely awesome predators. They come in a variety of types such as red, golden, silver, black, Asian, green, albino, and platinum; with Asian Arowana and Silver being the most popular. 

Can You Import And Own An Arowana In Australia?

No, you cannot import, or own, any of the various types of Arowana in any of the six states of Australia. This is mainly due to them being a threat to the continent’s river systems if they are dumped there by irresponsible owners.

All of Australia has had problems with various species being dumped into their rivers and oceans. The consequences of which have been devastating on the environment and native species. Once there, invasive species, like the Arowana, are virtually impossible to eradicate.

Are There Any Other Reasons You Cannot Import Or Own An Arowana In Australia?

Yes, but it only applies to one particular species which is the Asian Arowana (Scleropages Formosus). Of all the Arowana, the Asian is the most sought after and desirable with top-grade specimens reaching the dizzying heights of $300,000 price tags. 

They command a huge price tag but they are not the only fish that are very expensive.

Read our article: Most expensive fish in the world!

How the Asian Arowana became so popular is a little bit of a mystery. Up until the early 1970s they were seen as little more than a foodstuff heading for a diner’s plate. By the mid-70s, however, they were being exported in large numbers within the fish keeping trade. This caused their populations to suffer and CITES to step in.

In 1975 CITES put the Asian Arowana onto their endangered list and placed them in appendix 1. This meant that this highly sought after fish could no longer be exported or owned in any of the 21 countries that had signed the original 1973 CITES agreement or joined in the years to come. 

asian arowana fish
These amazing fish are banned in Australia and from being imported into the US

The CITES Asian Arowana Registered Breeders Program

In 1989, CITES began to allow Asian Arowanas to be bred in captivity on farms and exported. However, the exported specimens had to be two generations from wild-caught and come with microchips and certificates of authenticity. The first of these farms were opened successfully in Indonesia with one following later in Singapore. 

Now, in 2019, there are almost 150 CITES registered Asian Arowana farms in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Fish enthusiasts now dub the Asian Arowana as the ‘most mass-produced endangered species in history’.

However, the ban on importing wild-caught has not been lifted and will not be for the foreseeable future. This is due to the numbers of the Asian Arowana in their natural habitat continuing to decline. 

You can check any fish on the endangered species list here.

Visit the icunredlist website here!

Of course, this registered breeding program is of no real consequence to fish keepers in Australia wishing to keep one, as they have not relaxed their ban at all. This is no doubt to still protect their waterways from becoming infested with specimens that may find themselves dumped there. 

Asian Arowana Smuggling

As with any product that is illegal, there are always those who will risk their necks to smuggle one in. For example, in 2007, Sharon Naismith attempted to enter Australia with $30,000 worth of exotic fish. These included Asian Arowana, hidden underneath her skirt.

She was caught because the security heard the water ‘sploshing’ around. Naismith was ordered to complete nine months of community service. 

The penalties for attempting to smuggle exotic animals, such as the Asian Arowana aren’t, however, always so lenient. Earlier this year, for example, a Vietnamese national tried to smuggle through a fully red Asian Arowana he was carrying around his neck and now faces a ten-year prison sentence and a $210,000 fine.

Of course, every now and then an Asian Arowana will make its way into the country and appear in a pet store or an online ad for sale. In fact, according to many Australian fishkeepers, this is a common event. 

If you’re planning to import any species into Australia then you’ll be best to check out all the rules and regulations on the AFMA using the link below.

Australian Fisheries Management Authority

One such occurrence took place in Mount Gravatt in 2014, when a pet store owner was found in possession of one. She claimed that she had bought the Asian Arowana from a breeder named Jason in Australia for $5000, and therefore had done nothing wrong.

However, after investigation the breeder Jason proved not to exist. The pet store owner then plead guilty to owning an endangered animal and was fined $800 with a recorded conviction.

Read the full story here!

asian arowana on a black background
These fish can sell for up to $300,000

Loophole In The Law

Although we stated early on in this article that Arowanas were both illegal to import and illegal to own in Australia, some fishkeepers would disagree. 

As stated previously many fish keepers report that they have seen all types of Arowana for sale in pet stores and online. So how could this be when they are illegal to import and own? Well because, say these fish keepers, the Arowanas in question have not been imported into Australia but bred there. It is the importation they claim is illegal, and not the actual ownership. 

In Victoria, however, this would definitely not be the case as the Arowana features on their noxious list. Noxious being, and we quote, a species which you ‘cannot bring into the state, KEEP, take, hatch, POSSESS, sell, transport, put into any container or release into protected waters’. 

For the other states, however, the Arowana has not YET made it onto their noxious lists. Meaning that it could be argued, they are only illegal to import and not to own. Furthermore, if you can then prove your Arowana was bred in Australia, rather than being imported there, arguably again, there is no illegality at all. 

It should be noted here, that for the Asian Arowana, the above scenario of legal to own plays out a little differently. If you have an Asian Arowana without a microchip you will more than likely be found guilty of smuggling an endangered animal, and for a microchipped one owning a smuggled Asian Arowana.  

Please note, we (fishkeeping forever) do not suggest that the above has any merit, and would certainly not recommend you use this as a loophole yourselves to buy and keep an Arowana. 


All Is Not Lost

Whilst it seems like it is all doom and gloom for the aspiring Arowana owner in Australia, there is some sunshine that comes in the form of their very own Arowanas.

These are the stunning Scleropages Jardinii and the magnificent Scleropages Leichardti. Though these are not true Arowana, they do resemble them greatly in size, appearance, and predatory nature, and though it is just my opinion, the Scleropages Leichardti can rival any Arowana I have seen.

asian arowana fish

Conclusion: Can you import Asian Arowana fish into Australia?

The simple answer is ‘no’. Many species of fish can be imported but Asain Arowana is not one of them.

Let us know if you have had any experience in this topic. We’d love to hear your side of the story.

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