Are Arowanas Banned In The United States? US Fish Laws On Arowanas.

As dream fish go, the Arowana has to be top of the list for most fish keepers. They are stunningly handsome, of a highly impressive size, and one of the most predatory species that we keep in aquariums. They are, however, also not the easiest of species to keep and have some hard to achieve specialist requirements. Some Arowanas are banned in the United States.

These fish are also not available to everyone. 

Are Arowanas banned in the United States? In the United States and some other countries like Australia, the answer is ‘yes’. Silver Arowana are banned and an absolute ‘no’ to the Asian Arowana. However, things are not quite as simple as they may seem with both these coveted fish with loopholes allowing you to import these amazing fish.

Can You Keep Arowana In The United States?

There are many different types of Arowana available to the fish keeper. These include those such as golden, jardini, black, green, albino, Asian, red, silver, and platinum. All of these have different rules and regulations when it comes to keeping them stateside.

The most popular of these are the Asian and the Silver. For the purposes of this article, we will concentrate on these. 

The simple answer to the question ‘Are Arowanas banned in the United States?’ is ‘no’ unless it’s an Asian Arowana. There is no law banning Silver Arowanas in the United States (unless you live in Oklahoma). However, things are not quite as simple as they may seem with both of these coveted fish. 

Silver Arowana Ownership In The United States

The Silver Arowana (Osteoglossum Bicirrhosum) is a South American species which you can find naturally in the rivers of Columbia and Brazil. They are fished for dual purposes in these areas; for both aquaria and as food. In recent years, it is believed that populations have declined and the IUCN Red List has them listed as needing conservation attention. 

Despite concerns about the conservation status of the Silver Arowana, they do not appear to have made it onto the radar of CITES. This means that they are on a federal level perfectly legal to import into the United States.

However, every state within the US has its own rules and regulations on the importing of the Silver Arowana, with some banning them altogether. Whilst others require the obtaining of a permit to own them. 

The reason behind the ban or requirement of an import permit is really very simple. There is a huge concern that these rather large growing (3 foot), difficult to keep predators, may be released into the river systems when their owners can no longer care for them.

Once there this species could cause immense problems in the ecosystem of the area, even wiping out other integral native species. Releasing exotic animals into river systems etcetera is illegal and carries a hefty fine, varying by state. 

asian arowana
Stunning Asian Arowanas can sell for up to $300,000

At present, there are just two states which limit ownership of the Silver Arowana; Mississippi where you need a permit, and Oklahoma where you cannot own one at all. It is always, however, worth checking with your particular state’s Fish and Wildlife Services. Changes may have been made which would forbid buying or ruling out this species of fish. 

Asian Arowana Ownership In The United States

Whilst the Silver is undoubtedly a popular choice amongst the Arowana species it cannot hold a candle to the Asian. These beauties hail from Southeast Asia come in a variety of colorations are undoubtedly the most coveted fish species in the world.

Collectors have been known to pay up to around $300,000 for a desirable specimen. Both theft or sabotage of them is a real concern.

These fish are expensive and have gained entry on to our Most Expensive Fish In the World List. Read it here and be amazed.

For most, the huge popularity surge of the Asian Arowana in the 1970s is a bit of a mystery. Prior to this, they were plain and simple, most often a fish that ended up on a dinner plate. Not at all the now king of the aquarium.

However, whatever caused this surge, it put the Asian Arowana at risk creating an offtake that species numbers just couldn’t sustain. 

In 1975, CITES responded to the dwindling number of Asian Arowana by putting them on their endangered list. In fact, they became one of only eight fish to be listed on appendix 1 meaning they were at extremely high risk.

The Asian Arowana is now a protected species. International trade in them is prohibited, unless for scientific and research purposes. Hence, Asian Arowanas are banned in the United States.

The United States, along with twenty other countries, signed the CITES agreement in 1973. This means that all imports of Asian Arowanas to them had to stop. In fact, it became a federal offense to either own or import an Asian Arowana with the penalties being at the very least a substantial fine, and possibly even a prison sentence. 

asian arowana
The amazing Asian Arowana

But You Can Legally Own An Asian Arowana In Countries Such As Canada?

Indeed you can, and the reason for this was a change in the CITES ruling. In 1989, they allowed Asian Arowanas to be traded again. However, this was only if they came from being bred in captivity on farms.

Traded Arowanas also had to be two generations away from being wild. In addition, they had to have certificates of birth and authenticity and be microchipped. 

The first Asian Arowana farm was successfully set up in Indonesia, with Singapore following closely behind. However, there are now close to 150 CITES registered breeders in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. All of these breeders can legally trade in Asian Arowana to those countries where there is no ban in place. 

Did you know!

Some Arowana owners even under go plastic surgery on their fish to help them win competitions. Not something we recommend!

Herein, however, lies the problem, and that is concerning the lifting of the ban. Whilst Canada and many other countries have done this, on captive-bred Asian Arowanas, some like Australia and the United States have not. You still cannot import, despite the success of the farms, an Asian Arowana into the USA.  

Conclusion: Are Arowana fish banned in the United States?

It is unclear why the United States has not lifted the ban on captive caught Asian Arowanas being imported into the country. It is something that causes great consternation to those fish keepers who would like to own one.

After all, the Asian Arowana has to be the most mass-produced endangered species that there has ever been. 

It may, however, be that the lifting of the ban would cause a huge influx of these magnificent species into the country, and one that they may not feel able to fully control.

It also could be the worry that potentially, many fish keepers may impulse buy the Asian Arowana, and then dump them into the river systems when they realize they have bitten off more than they can chew.

They could also be worried about fake certificates and microchips being placed inside wild-caught fish and making their way to the United States. 

The truth is, however, that the ‘why’ doesn’t really matter. The United States shows no sign of lifting the ban or any plans to do so in the near future. For now, those states where they are allowed will just have to make do with the poor cousin, but still stunning, Silver Arowana. 

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