Freshwater Fish thrown a lifeline by Global Conservation Experts

The plight facing freshwater fishes was tackled by some of the world’s leading conservationists in a week long gathering earlier this month.

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Many of the world’s 14,000 freshwater fish species are in difficulty because of climate change, over-fishing, pollution, damming and habitat destruction. The effects have already been felt in the Amazon Basin, where 5,000 species are at risk as the basin faces its worst drought in many years.

In a global effort to tackle these problems, Chester Zoo, UK, hosted a five day meeting of the IUCN SSC Freshwater Fish Specialist Group (managed jointly by IUCN and Wetlands International).

Professor Gordon McGregor Reid, IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group Chair and Chester Zoo’s Director General chaired the meeting, where experts united to pull together action plans to identify and monitor the situation, publicise the work in progress and develop a global strategy for fish conservation.

“Freshwater fishes are extraordinarily important in worldwide conservation and represent the largest single group of vertebrates on the planet. They support the employment of millions and feed billions,” said Professor Reid.

“Living in one of the most threatened environments, freshwater fishes are one of the most threatened classes on the planet, and they need our intervention if they are to survive,” he added.

The conservation status of over 500 species was also evaluated, using standard IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, to determine which species would be classified as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This brings the number of completed and ongoing freshwater fish assessments to over 4,000, and it is hoped that, with additional funding, this will eventual lead to a global freshwater fish assessment of all 14,000 species.

Results will also be used for the development of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index, which is based on a sample of species from a wide range of taxonomic groups. It will measure trends in extinction risk for a wide range of global diversity, providing critical information to guide conservation actions and decisions.

The IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group offers support and advice to governments and wildlife agencies globally on the critical issues facing fishes. The network of members now extends to all the major regions of world including north, central and south America, Europe, the Middle East, south east Asia, north, west and central Africa, Australasia and Oceania as we look at developing action plans to recover the situation. The group endorses selected conservation projects, including a multi-million dollar project in the Congo Basin and another in the Middle East.

Freshwater facts:

• Inland fishes represent about 26 per cent of the world’s annual fisheries production (34.2 million tonnes of freshwater fishes are caught or raised in aquaculture annually)
• Over four per cent of the world’s annual animal protein supplies are freshwater fishes
• More than 300 kinds of fish species new to science are discovered every year, the majority coming from fresh waters
• At least 27 million tonnes of freshwater fishes are consumed annually for food with another eight million tonnes being used annually for non-food products like fishmeal and oil
• Over 68 per cent of these fisheries are in developing countries
• In the Mekong River alone, 52 million people depend on freshwater fishes for livelihood and nutrition


Work area: 
Freshwater species
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