UK fish protected by law

Some fish in Welsh waters (inland and marine) are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). One rare visitor, the sturgeon, is an EPS because it has declined throughout Europe.

UK legislation

The following species are fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). This legislation protects them for a distance of up to 12 nautical miles from the Welsh coast. 

  • Burbot, Lota lota
  • Couch’s goby, Gobius couchii
  • Giant goby, Gobius cobitis
  • Spiny seahorse, Hippocampus guttulatus
  • Short-snouted seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus
  • Basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus
  • Vendace, Coregonus albula
  • Whitefish, Coregonus lavaretus

The following species have partial protection under Schedule 5:

  • Allis shad, Alosa alosa
  • Twaite shad, Alosa fallax
  • Angel shark, Squatina squatina
  • Sturgeon, Acipenser sturio

Offences given in Section 9 include combinations of the following:

  • intentionally kill, injure or take,
  • damage or destroy any place of shelter or protection,
  • disturb whilst occupying a place of shelter or protection,
  • obstruct access to a place or shelter or protection,
  • sell, offer or expose for sale

The Basking shark has a unique section in the Act, that ‘if any person intentionally or recklessly disturbs….a basking shark, he shall be guilty of an offence’.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) issues licences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act for specific purposes, to enable you to work within the law. Find out more about fish licensing

European legislation

The Sturgeon is protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, (known as ‘the Habitats Regulations’). This is because it has declined throughout Europe in recent decades.

Under the Habitats Regulations, it is an offence if you:

  • Deliberately capture, injure or kill any wild animal of an EPS,
  • Deliberately disturb wild animals of any such species,
  • Deliberately take or destroy the eggs of such an animal, or
  • Damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal

Disturbance is defined as that which is likely:

  • To impair their ability – To survive, to breed or reproduce, or to rear or nurture their young, or In the case of animals of a hibernating or migratory species, to hibernate or migrate; or
  • To affect significantly the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong

There are other offences relating to possession, transport and sale. See Possession and Sale of Protected Species for further information.

NRW issues licences under Regulation 55 of the Habitats Regulations to allow activities involving EPS to proceed, which would otherwise be offences. Find out more about fish licensing.

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