Management of aquarium (“ornamental”) fish


Tanks of koi

Keeping aquarium or "ornamental" fish is a popular pastime in NSW. Hundreds of fish species, both native and exotic, are sold by aquarium suppliers for this use. The ornamental fish industry is estimated to be worth $350 million annually in Australia.

It is important to make sure living things in your aquarium or pond are kept away from our oceans and waterways and that you are aware of your responsibilities in relation to keeping ornamental fish. Most of the fish, snails, and plants you keep are not native to your local area or to Australia in general.

Ornamental plants and animals that are accidentally or deliberately released into the wild can establish reproducing populations, often with disastrous impacts on native aquatic ecology. Once established, aquatic pests can be very difficult, if not impossible to eradicate. To reduce the risk of this occurring, some ornamental species have been listed as prohibited or notifiable in NSW, while other species are listed as prohibited for importation into NSW.

If you are an ornamental hobbyist you should make sure your aquarium and its inhabitants remain happy and healthy. Here are a few things you should remember:

  • Know your fish – Some need special conditions and diet, while others are aggressive and unsuitable for a community tank.
  • Change the water – Replace about a third of the water in your aquarium at least once a month. Tap water may contain chemicals that harm your fish so make sure you add a water conditioner available from your pet shop.
  • Remove sick fish – Diseased fish can contaminate others so remove them quickly (and dispose in general waste).
  • Don't overfeed – Feed only as much as your fish will eat in one minute and just once a day, or as advised by your pet shop.
  • Don't overcrowd – Overcrowding increases pollution and aggression problems.
Cichlids are popular

Prohibited ornamental fish

On 1 July 2017 the NSW Government implemented the new Biosecurity Act 2015 (the Act).  Under Schedule 2 of this Act there is a list of fish species declared as Prohibited Matter in NSW. It is illegal to possess, buy, sell or move any fish listed as Prohibited Matter in NSW. Heavy penalties apply for non-compliance. In addition, NSW DPI has the power to seize and require the destruction of these pests.Under Schedule 1 of the Biosecurity Regulation 2017 there is a further list of pest fish species that are notifiable and are illegal to possess, buy, sell or move in NSW. Heavy penalties apply for non-compliance. In addition, NSW DPI has the power to seize and require destruction of these pests.

National management of ornamental fish

Ornamental koi

In 2006, "A Strategic Approach to Management of Ornamental Fish in Australia" (the Strategy) was developed to provide a consistent approach for managing ornamental fish across the states and territories. On 16 December 2016, the NSW government introduced further changes to the NSW Pest Fish List as part of a consistent approach to the management of ornamental fish throughout Australia. The full list of prohibited ornamental fish species can be found at the NSW Ornamental fish update (PDF, 281.99 KB).

Advisory period for new species on the NSW Pest Fish List ended on 1 September 2017

On 16 December 2016, the NSW Government introduced further changes to the NSW Pest Fish List (formerly known as NSW Noxious Fish List). The most recent additions can be found highlighted and in Bold on the Pest fish list (PDF, 281.99 KB). NSW DPI provided industry stakeholders and hobbyists with a six month advisory period (1 March 2017 until 31 August 2017) to comply with new additions.

Compliance with all listings on the NSW Pest fish list (PDF, 281.99 KB) is mandatory by law. Heavy penalties apply for non- compliance.

The NSW Pest Fish list can also be found in legislation at:

More information

Ornamental fish update (PDF, 281.99 KB) - important information regarding the NSW Pest Fish list (English and Multilingual).

Frequently asked questions

No. NSW DPI has provided hobbyists with a 6 month advisory period (1 March 2017 until 31 August 2017) to enable stakeholders to comply with the most recent listings.

It is illegal to keep or sell species listed as prohibited or notifiable on the NSW Pest Fish list. Any person, hobbyist or industry member that is in possession of any regulated species must dispose of them humanely. The NSW DPI Animal Welfare Branch has provided advice for the ornamental fish industry regarding the acceptable methods of euthanasing pet fish.

Yes. The National Strategy developed in 2006 referred to over 780 species that are to be risk assessed, and considered by a National Technical Working Group, (with representatives from industry and hobbyists). Further consultation with industry and hobby groups will be undertaken on each proposed addition to the National Noxious Fish List in the states and territories to seek advice on species proposed to be added as noxious.

For these purposes, DPI has established an industry consultation group called the NSW Ornamental Fish Reference Group. Representatives of this group, including major industry and hobby groups in NSW, are asked to both provide information to and seek feedback regarding the national process from their respective associations, councils and group members. Any comments or concerns raised through this process are then forwarded to the National Freshwater Fish Expert Group (under the Invasive Plants and Animals Committee) for consideration. DPI will also provide advice during the consultation phases for proposed additions to the National Noxious Fish List on this website.

For current information relating to NSW pest fish and national noxious listings see updates below:

Don't dump that fish!

Aquarium fish, snails or weed should NEVER be released or disposed of into the wild. Outdoor ponds should be designed so that fish cannot escape or be washed out during heavy rain. Any unwanted aquarium fish should be either given to a

Native fish can be an attractive and interesting alternative to keeping exotic fish in aquaria. A large variety of species can be obtained from aquarium shops, native plant nurseries or water garden suppliers. (NOTE: native fish cannot be collected from the wild to keep in ponds or aquaria without a specific permit). Care should be taken to prevent release of native fish into the wild, as they can also have an impact on local populations.

Eastern Gambusia and Carp illustrate the damage that can be caused if non-native fish escape or are released into natural waterways. Gambusia is now listed as a 'key threatening process' by the Office of Environment and Heritage because of their impacts on native frogs.

Mozambique mouthbrooder

Other non-native aquarium species that have established wild populations in NSW include:

Species that occur naturally in other parts of Australia may cause problems if introduced into an area outside their natural range (e.g. Banded Grunter (Amniataba percoides) and Caulerpa taxifolia, a pest marine vegetation).

Importation of fish

NSW DPI maintains a list of fish species (PDF, 281.99 KB) which cannot be imported (live) into NSW without a specific importation permit. These are species which have been identified as potentially posing a significant threat to native wildlife, ecosystems, human health or the State's aquaculture industries and are listed under Schedule 5 of the Fisheries Management (General) Regulation 2010.

Aquaculture permit requirements for cultivation of ornamental fish

Any person who cultivates ornamental fish with a view to sale in a facility that holds 10,000 litres or more must hold an aquaculture permit. Under the definition of sell in Section 4 of the Fisheries Management Act 1994, sell also includes to barter or exchange and to offer or expose for sale. For details on Aquaculture Permits and how to obtain one please see our Aquaculture webpages or contact the Aquaculture Administration section of NSW DPI on (02) 4982 1232.