The EU Tackles Wildlife Trafficking
BY JOHN DAWES
When we come across reports relating to illegal wildlife trafficking, the subjects are usually dra- matic ones such as seizures of illegal ivory, tiger
skins, bear organs and so on. Therefore, we tend to think
that the ornamental aquatic industry is not part of this
world of illegal international trade activities. But, unfortunately, it is.
The concept of what constitutes illegal wildlife trafficking is sufficiently wide to embrace not just consciously
engineered illegal trans-boundary trade, but also unintentional nonobservance of international trade rules.
This—from the European perspective—was brought
sharply into focus in February when the European Union
celebrated the first anniversary of the adoption of the EU
Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking at a major conference held in Brussels. The idea behind this meeting was
to provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to evaluate
the effectiveness of the action plan following its implementation. Present at the gathering were not just representatives of the various EU Member States’ judiciaries
and enforcement agencies, but also representatives from
the pet, air transportation and courier industries.
It was reported that the EU is a major market for legal
trade in wildlife, with such trade valued at 100 million
euros per year. It also is a major transit and source region
for illegal wildlife products.
The action plan is, therefore, seen as the EU response
to the need to control the illegal sector. As mentioned
above, the plan was adopted by the European Commission one year prior to the February meeting. It then had
to go through two essential steps before it could be implemented. The first one—its adoption by the EU Council—
was completed in June of last year, with the final one—the
granting of official support by the EU Parliament—
completed last November. So, in effect, the action plan has
only been in operation for a few months at the time of
writing this piece.
Its original aims remain unaltered:
• Preventing wildlife trafficking and addressing its
• Implementing and enforcing existing rules and combating organized wildlife crime more effectively
• Strengthening the global partnership of source,
consumer and transit countries against wildlife
Few would argue with these aims, and certainly not
the ornamental aquatic industry, which has been sup-
porting legal trade and condemning illegal trade for
years now. Encouragingly, this stance has not gone un-
noticed, with the pet industry in general being depicted
in the various presentations made at the February con-
ference as a well-organized sector. This, undoubtedly, is
largely down to the hard work of our representatives at
the numerous conferences and meetings that take place
all over the world. Another factor that holds us in good
stead is that the pet industry has always emphasized
the need for a collaborative and mutually supportive
approach at all levels of the stakeholder community in
tackling wildlife crime.
We can, therefore, walk away from meetings such
as the first anniversary conference of the EU Wildlife
Action Plan with the reassuring feeling that we hold
a strong, positive stance against illegal trading that is
acknowledged within the corridors of power. Having
said this, we must not believe for one moment that this
type of activity does not occur within our circle of trade
Intentional illegal trafficking still occurs, although
the general consensus is that it is at a considerably
lower level than it did in the past. Intentional misla-
belling of exported/imported species is, perhaps, the
most obvious and best-known way in which this has
tended to happen in the past. There have been, for ex-
ample, several high-profile cases where CITES-listed
species—most notably, dragon-
fish (Scleropages formosus) and
hard corals—have been seized
at various EU border inspection
posts. There also have been cas-
es of attempted smuggling, of
course, with animals, for exam-
ple, being hidden among items
of personal luggage.
And then there are the un-
intentional cases of wildlife
trafficking. These occur when
shipments, or individual species, carry inappropriate or
incorrect documentation. Though one could argue that it
is the responsibility of the exporter/importer to ensure
that every shipment and every species carries all the nec-
essary documentation, it is very possible for some vital
factor to be overlooked, especially following the imple-
mentation of new legal requirements. Unfortunately, all
seizures that might result from this will be recorded as
cases of illegal trafficking.
The action plan might have shortcomings, but it does
set out to battle against illegal trade. With regard to aquat-
ic species, it makes special mention of illegal coral har-
vesting, aquatic species that might be in danger of becom-
ing extinct, online sales of aquatic organisms, the need
to strengthen measures regarding the illicit trafficking in
species intended for aquariums, the need for traceability,
awareness-raising among consumers, the establishment
of “positive lists,” i.e. species that can legally be traded
and kept, and other factors.
It’s still very early in the life of the action plan, and
it is unclear how effectively or otherwise it will be enforced, but, whatever the case, our industry is, and will
continue to be, actively involved in its development
The full text of the EU Action Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking can be consulted by searching for: European Parliament Resolution of 24 November, 2016, on EU Action
Plan Against Wildlife Trafficking.
One year after its adoption, the European Union’s action plan shows signs that it could
positively impact the ornamental aquatic industry if effectively implemented.
Some of the best-known cases of illegal trafficking within the ornamental
aquatic industry relate to the enigmatic and legendary dragonfish.
Species don’t need to be on any endangered or protected list to be
seized—inappropriate or incorrect documentation could suffice.
John Dawes is an international ornamental aquatic industry consultant. He has written and/or edited more than 50 books and has
contributed more than 4,000 articles to hobby, trade and academic
publications. He is the editor of the OFI Journal and a consultant
to AquaRealm, the new trade show scheduled for June 2017 in