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Are Silver Arowanas Illegal?

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The silver arowana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum) is not banned on a federal level in the United States, though it is possible some local governments have banned them. However, confusion may exist because the similar Asian arowana (Scleropages formosus) is banned for export, due to concerns about the survival of the species, which is threatened by harvesting for the aquarium trade, habitat loss and other ecological concerns.

Asian Arowana: Outlaw Fish

In the United States, it is illegal to own or import any species of the Asian arowana. The Asian arowana was originally Scleropages formosus, but has since been split into several different species -- all protected. The species is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List. Initially, collection for the aquarium trade was the main threat to these fish. However, as various governments limited their trade, habitat loss and degradation continued to dog the slowly reproducing species, and it remains on the endangered list.

Asian Arowana Breeding Programs

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the international body that regulates trade in endangered animals, lists Asian arowanas as category 1 -- the most restricted category of their classification system. However, this regulation does allow for the captive breeding of these fish for the aquarium trade. This has led to a thriving trade in Asia, particularly China where high-quality specimens are viewed as status symbols. Asian arowanas can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and are typically microchipped and certified by breeders. However, a thriving black market in wild-caught fish also exists.

More Bad News: Housing Impossible

Both the Asian and silver arowanas still have one major concern: giant aquariums. These fish grow to about 3 feet in length and are active swimmers. Part of why they are viewed as status symbols in some countries is that it is expensive not only to purchase the fish, but to provide a gargantuan aquarium for them. Their huge size makes them suitable only for the largest home aquariums. Despite the fact that silver arowanas are much cheaper, they cost just as much as their Asian counterparts to house.

When Silver Becomes Criminal

If you plan to keep silver arowanas, always check your local laws. While silver arowanas are not regulated on the federal level, city, county or state laws may restrict their ownership. In most states, the Fish and Game Department, sometimes called the Department of Natural Resources publishes a list of banned species. Also keep in mind that with many large fish, some aquarium hobbyists release the fish once it gets too large to care for. Not only is this profoundly irresponsible -- large, predatory fish such as arowanas can cause problems in the local ecosystem -- but releasing an exotic animal is illegal in many parts of the US due to concerns about invasive species.