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January 2014

It is illegal to import or possess GM fish without appropriate authorisation

Which ornamental fish are genetically modified?

Conventional (non-genetically modified) zebra fish and Japanese rice fish are commonly used for ornamental purposes in aquariums.

The genetically modified (GM) varieties of these fish have been modified so that their scales express fluorescent proteins that enhance their colour. They are sometimes referred to as GloFish® or fluorescent fish, and they are available in a variety of different colours including red, green, orange and pink.

GloFish® – GM zebrafish

Fluorescent GloFish® - zebra fish. Source:
The species of GM ornamental fish currently available in some countries are:
  • Danio rerio, commonly known as zebra fish or danios
  • Oryzias latipes, commonly known as Japanese rice fish, Japanese killifish, Japanese medaka or tooth-carp.
There are incorrect claims that these colours are created by dyeing the fish or feeding them hormones. Red, green, orange or pink zebra fish or Japanese rice fish should be considered as potentially GM.

Are there restrictions on genetically modified fish?

It is illegal to import or possess GM fish without appropriate authorisation under the Gene Technology Act 2000 (the GT Act) and from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (formerly the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service).

If you possess GM fish without the proper authorisation, you may be subject to penalties of up to two years imprisonment or a $55 000 fine, or five years imprisonment or a $220 000 fine for an aggravated offence..

The rules about regulation of GM fish and the penalties are set out by the GT Act, the Gene Technology Regulations 2001 (the GT Regulations), and corresponding State and Territory laws.

Importing GM fish

All live fish imports to Australia must comply with quarantine requirements set by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Any import of GM fish also requires authorisation under the GT Act, as described below.

Importing for research or display

Importing GM fish for research or display purposes may be classed as a Notifiable Low Risk Dealing (NLRD) under the GT Act.

NLRDs are subject to strict requirements prescribed in the GT Regulations, including advising the Gene Technology Regulator (the Regulator), keeping records and housing the fish in a Physical Containment Level 2 facility that has been certified in accordance with guidelines issued by the Regulator.

You can find more information on the website of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

Importing for sale

Importing GM fish for commercial sale is classified under the GT Act as a Dealing involving Intentional Release (DIR) of a GMO into the environment. DIRs require a licence from the Regulator.

A DIR licence application must contain information specified by the Regulator, including information on the non-GM ‘parent’ of the GMO, the effects of the genetic modification and potential interactions in the environment.

In the process for each DIR licence application, the Regulator prepares a comprehensive risk assessment and risk management plan; and consults a wide range of experts, agencies and authorities, and the public. The Regulator must not issue a licence unless satisfied that any risks to human health and the environment can be managed.

Licences are subject to statutory conditions specified in the Act, and additional conditions may be imposed on a licence to manage any identified risks.

The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator would recommend that you contact us before you submit an application.

What should I do if I have GM fish without authorisation?

The Regulator can issue an inadvertent dealings licence so that a person who has unintentionally come into possession of a GM organism can dispose of it without breaching the Act.

If you have unintentionally come into possession of GM fish, you should contact the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.
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