Update – August 27th, 2012:  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) continues to update the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS) in anticipation of new aquatic animal import requirements.  The Agency has now published more than 2,300 HS-OGD codes for ornamental finfish species in AIRS.  Importers are encouraged to use these new codes, rather than the two existing codes for “Other Ornamental Species not listed.” Using the two existing codes can result in delays at the border.

Update – November 18th, 2011:  These new import permit requirements represent a significant regulatory change for importers of aquatic animals to Canada. Because of this, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is implementing a Stream of Commerce Policy. The policy will be in effect until December 10, 2012 to allow for a transition period before the import permit requirements are enforced.


Pet stores, fish wholesalers and aquarium hobbyists should be aware that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has announced that as of December 10, 2011, there will be new requirements for all aquatic animals (fish, mollusks, and crustaceans) imported into Canada.

What it boils down to is tighter control on the aquatic species imported.  This will start with the requirement for all aquatic animals to be declared at the border.  Those listed in Schedule III of the Health of Animals Regulations may require an Aquatic Animal Health Import Permit.

Aquatic Animal Health Import Permits will not be required for:

  • Pet aquatic animals that meet specific requirements
  • Aquatic animals on Schedule III that meet the requirements for personal use
  • Aquatic animals that are eviscerated (gutted)
  • Products derived from aquatic animals already processed
  • Packaged products derived from aquatic animals
  • Ready-to-eat products derived from aquatic animals

The above exceptions would include ingredients and fish food because it has already been processed and packaged.

The Automated Import Reference System (AIRS)  will indicate which aquatic animal commodities will require an Aquatic Animal Health Import Permit and Zoosanitary Certification by an exporting country. Zoosanitary certification terms and conditions are currently being negotiated with Canada’s trading partners.

Most live terrestrial animal imports into Canada require a valid import permit. Permits contain specific requirements based on the health risks associated with the animal, the origin, and other relevant health information. Import permits for aquatic animals will be similar, and imports will require a health certification from the country of origin that the animals to be exported to Canada meet its aquatic animal health requirements.

Exemptions for aquatic animals used as pets or for personal use require the owner to verify the intended use of the pet. These exemptions are outlined in the Health of Animals Regulations.

Anyone bringing an aquatic pet (aquarium fish, crustaceans, aquatic snails, etc.) into Canada must also have a ‘declaration’ or, in the case of aquatic animals on the Susceptible Species List, an import permit.

The declaration must include:

  • The name and address of the exporter and importer
  • The scientific name of the aquatic animal, the life stage it is at, and the number of animals being imported, if more than one
  • The country in which the aquatic animal originated from… and, in the case of an aquatic animal, whether it was born in captivity or in the wild.

I can understand and comply with the above requirements, but from out of nowhere comes the following additional criteria for a fish-keeper to import ‘susceptible’ pet fish.

When importing an aquatic animal, an import permit will not be required when the owner can:

  • Present proof of their identity and their ownership of the aquatic animal to the inspector at the point of entry into Canada
  • Attest to the fact that the pet animal has not been taken to a show or display outside of Canada
  • Keep the pet animal in their household aquarium
  • Ensure the pet animal is not exposed to any aquatic animals other than those kept in the household, for one year following the importation
  • Not import another pet aquatic animal for the period of 90 days after the importation
  • Keep all records of the importation

It’s painfully obvious that they’re trying to apply rules for terrestrial animals, which demonstrates that they have no understanding of the aquarium hobby or the pet fish industry.  Certainly restrictions like importing no more than every 90 days are useless.  And how exactly are they going to determine if the fish are exposed to other fish for a YEAR after import?  The whole thing is really quite ridiculous.

Who did they actually consult?  The National Aquatic Animal Health Program (NAAHP) is managed through the Aquatic Animal Health Committee (AAHC). This Committee includes provincial and territorial authorities for aquaculture and wild fisheries resource management, veterinary association representatives, Aboriginal groups and wild and farmed industry stakeholders.

That explains a lot.

Then they present a list of ‘susceptible species’.    Unfortunately, there is no rhyme nor reason behind their choices.  The majority of fish imported for aquarium hobbyists pose no more or less risk than those listed.

Barbonymus gonionotus
Carassius auratus
Colisa lalia
Danio rerio
Glossogobius giuris
Osphronemus goramy
Oxyeleotris marmorata
Poecilia reticulata (Guppy)
Puntius sophore
Symphysodon discus
Toxotes chatareus
Trichogaster pectoralis
Trichogaster trichopterus

All of this in the name of protecting wild fish stocks, which of course I agree is a serious issue.  However, having spent many years as a responsible, educated aquarist and moving in related business circles, I can tell you that regulations are not what is required to tackle issues with pet fish release.  The diseases that are in some stores and aquariums now will still circulate.  Without education, ignorance will still lead to wild-release.   I have seen no real effort from the Canadian Government to educate fish hobbyists on wild-release issues, which would cost no more than implementing and enforcing ineffective import regulations.

In short, these new regulations aren’t worth the screen they’re printed on, unless you count the outrageous costs of enforcement, and the impact on the economy that additional costs for businesses will have.   There will be no positive outcome, except perhaps convincing a few voters that the government is actually addressing this serious issue.

When it comes to pets, the government would accomplish far more if they consulted and educated the people who have them.

The way I see it anyway ;-).

For more information, contact the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at 1-800-442-2342 or visit their Aquatic Animals web page.

Other Resources:

Application for Permit to Import Aquatic Animals and/or Their Offal {.pdf}
National Aquatic Animal Health Program
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council of Canada (PIJAC Canada)
Fisheries & Oceans Canada
Surveillance for Aquatic Animal Diseases

Source:  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency


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11 thoughts on “New Canadian Rules for Importing Aquarium Fish, Crustaceans and Snails (Updated) ©

  1. Don’t they have something better to do that would actually be useful? I’m all for saving wild fish and waterways but this won’t help at all! Not even a little!

  2. I understand the need for regulations but this is insane. We need to get people who know what they’re talking about to advise the suits.

  3. Oh Canada, why must you always make the same mistakes as America? Regulating fish imports like guppies is only necessary in warm climates and we don’t happen to have one of those!

  4. Excellent reporting & editorial. We need more eyes on fish and aquarium issues.

  5. I’m a tropical fish importer so nothing the Canadian government does surprises me anymore. I agree, it’s ineffective and impossible to enforce ridiculous regulations like these. It’s just another cash grab and I’m just a grab or two from going out of business.

  6. I don’t know what Canadian fish keepers would do without people like you to keep us posted. Appreciate the info even if it is bad news.

  7. I’ve been hearing rumours about this. Another load of bureaucratic BS from the government of canada! If they want to make a difference they’d take the time to learn about what they’re regulating. Thanks for keeping the post updated. I’m glad we have another year before this madness begins.

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