Conservation groups raise concern over freshwater fish

Thousands of freshwater fish species are heading towards extinction, with freshwater biodiversity declining at twice the rate of that in oceans or forests, according to a report released by a group of 16 global conservation organisations.

According to the report, the conservation status of more than 10,000 freshwater fish species has been assessed by IUCN. Of these, 30% are considered to be at risk of extinction.

As well as highlighting the decline, the report celebrates the richness of freshwater fish diversity. There are 35,678 known species of fish, and 51% of these live in freshwater. The report adds that 80 species of freshwater fish have already been declared ‘Extinct’ according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including 16 in 2020 alone. Populations of migratory freshwater fish have fallen by 76% since 1970, with populations of mega-fish falling by 94%.

In the report, the conservation organisations call on the world to implement an Emergency Recovery Plan for freshwater biodiversity. It says that this has been developed by scientists and freshwater experts from across the world, and is a practical, science-based plan incorporating six pillars.

The six pillars, which have each been implemented in different parts of the world, are to: let rivers flow more naturally; improve water quality in freshwater ecosystems; protect and restore critical habitats; end overfishing and unsustainable sand mining in rivers and lakes; prevent and control invasions by non-native species; and protect free-flowing rivers and remove obsolete dams.

In the announcement of the release of the report, Stuart Orr, WWF global Freshwater Lead, comments: “Nowhere is the world’s nature crisis more acute than in our rivers, lakes and wetlands, and the clearest indicator of the damage we are doing is the rapid decline in freshwater fish populations. They are the aquatic version of the canary in the coalmine, and we must heed the warning.”

The report highlights that freshwater fisheries provide the main source of protein for 200 million people across Asia, Africa and South America, and that healthy freshwater fish stocks sustain recreational fishing, which generates more than $100 billion annually, and global trade in aquarium fish.