Supply aquariums and zoos with marine species

Guide to the rules and regulations to know before performing sea-fishing activities to supply aquariums and zoos.

Applies to England

Catching marine species

Aquariums, zoos and similar enterprises in the UK source wild-caught marine species for display, research and feeding purposes.

You must have a fishing vessel licence issued by one of the UK or Crown dependency fisheries administrations to fish for profit for sea fish (including shellfish) from a UK vessel. It is an offence to fish for profit from a vessel without a licence. If you don’t have a fishing vessel licence you will need to charter a licensed fishing vessel.

The Single issuing Authority issues licences for all commercial fishing vessels in UK waters.

Any UK boat measuring 10 metres or under which does not have an engine to power the boat, does not need to have a licence and may sell their catch.

Quota, effort and minimum landing sizes

You will have to comply with quota, effort and minimum landing size regulations unless you have a relevant dispensation (exemption). These rules apply even if the vessel is chartered by an organisation on whose behalf the species are collected.

Scientific research

MMO may issue a dispensation to a vessel from certain UK laws for scientific research. Collecting species for supply to aquariums for display purposes will not normally fulfill the criteria for this.

MMO will only consider requests when evidence proves the dispensation is necessary and appropriate for scientific investigation.

Protected species

Some marine species are protected by international and national wildlife laws from intentional or deliberate disturbance, taking, harm and killing, and in some cases possession or sale. The laws can apply to activities from a vessel and from the shore. MMO will not issue a dispensation for any protected species.

Protected sites

A European marine site (EMS) is any created to protected species and habitats, or birds. You must check whether your activity is restricted in the areas before you collect any specimens.

Some coastal areas are designated as sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) and you must check with Natural England before collecting specimens if any restrictions apply. See the complete list of SSSIs.

Shore harvesting

A fishing licence is not needed to collect marine species from the shore if you are not using a fishing vessel. You may require a dispensation from an inshore fisheries and conservation authority (IFCA) from their byelaws, which regulate shore and vessel activities within their district. A byelaw may require a permit to carry out certain activities and apply restrictions to, for example:

  • minimum sizes of marine species
  • type and quantity of fishing gear
  • access such as closed periods or areas

Check with the relevant IFCA before collecting specimens.

Buying marine species

It is against the law to buy fish from a vessel that doesn’t have a UK or EU fishing vessel licence unless the vessel does not require a vessel licence.

A buyer must be registered to buy first-sale fish directly from a licensed fishing vessel if it is for display or animal feed purposes.

If you are buying fish second-sale from a registered merchant or fish seller, you don’t need to register.

First-sale fish purchases must be notified to MMO in a sales note within 24 hours of the sale if submitted electronically, or 48 hours in paper format. You can register for free on the Registered Buyers and Sellers Scheme.

An individual or company does not have to register as a buyer of first-sale fish or submit sales notes to purchase shore-caught fish.

Further information

This guide has been prepared by MMO following discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums and other interested parties.

This guide is not a definitive statement of the law and is neither intended to, nor should it, be used as an alternative to independent legal advice. The guide is a brief summary of the relevant laws and will be amended if legislation changes, because of judicial interpretation or factual changes. Nothing in this guide supersedes relevant domestic or international laws and any conflict shall be resolved in favour of the laws.

Contact information

Fisheries Management Team

0300 123 1032

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 1 January 2021 + show all updates
  1. Page amended in line with EU Exit operability guidance.

  2. First published.