A new assessment of fisheries has found that freshwater fish are under threat, with as many as a third of global populations in danger of extinction.
What is Happening?
- The report by 16 global conservation organisations, called The World’s Forgotten Fisheries, says that global populations of freshwater fish are declining rapidly. Problems include pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, the introduction of invasive species, climate change and the disruption of river ecologies. Most of the world’s rivers are now dammed in parts, have water extracted for irrigation or have their natural flows disrupted, further disrupting freshwater fish.
- Migratory freshwater fish populations have decreased by 76% since 1970 and large fish- those weighing more than 30kg- have been effectively wiped out in most rivers. The global population of megafish dropped by 94%, and 16 freshwater fish species were declared extinct last year.
- The report says that biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems is being lost at twice the rate of oceans and forests. There are more than 18 000 species of freshwater fish known, and more are still being discovered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the global red list of species in danger, has assessed more than 10 000 species of freshwater fish and has found that about 30% are at risk of extinction.
- The report singles out UK rivers as being of poor standard; Environment Agency data showed last year that no English rivers met the highest chemical standards thanks to farm pollution and sewage outflows, while just 15% were rated as having “good ecological status.”
- Particularly affected species include salmon, while burbot and sturgeon are extinct in UK waters.
- The organisations involved in the report include Fisheries Conservation Foundation, Global Wildlife Conservation, the IUCN, the Nature Conservancy, the WWF and Zoological Society of London.
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Dave Tickner, WWF’s chief adviser on freshwater, says: “Freshwater habitats are some of the most vibrant on earth, but they are in catastrophic decline. The UK is no exception – wildlife struggles to survive, let alone thrive, in our polluted waters.”
The WWF called on the UK government to back an emergency recovery plan for rivers and waterways. Ticker says, “That means proper enforcement of existing laws, strengthening protections in the environment bill to put UK nature on the path to recovery, and championing a strong set of global targets for recovery of nature, including rivers.”
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