UNITED KINGDOM. London: Nearly one-third of fish living in rivers and lakes are at risk of extinction, a new report suggested.
Since 1970 around 80 species of freshwater fish have been declared extinct, and even more have seen a worrying decline, according to the report.
The investigation was carried by 16 conservation groups including WWF, the London Zoological Society (ZSL), Global Wildlife Conservation and The Nature Conservancy.
In the past 50 years, migratory freshwater fish populations have declined by 76% on average, while the population of freshwater mega-fish (fisher heavier than 30kg) has declined by 94%.
On Tuesday, WWF Water wrote on Twitter: “OUT NOW: Major report on world’s #ForgottenFishes. Freshwater fishes are dazzlingly diverse. And they are critical for socialites, economies & ecosystems…but they are undervalued and under threat. We must act now to save them.”
2020 was a black year for freshwater fish as the “iconic Chinese paddlefish, an endemic giant of the Yangtze River” was declared extinct. The IUCN Red List for Threatened Species announced the loss of over 15 species in the Philippines.
Human impact on environment
The report stressed how freshwater fish play an important role within our ecosystems and “serve as indicators of the health of those ecosystems.”
Furthermore, the authors of the report added that “if our freshwater ecosystems deteriorate to the point where they can’t support a healthy population of fish, we can be sure they won’t fit for humans either.”
The threat of extinction for these species comes from a combination of human actions including, damming rivers, draining wetlands, abstracting too much water for irrigation and releasing too much-untreated waste into the water bodies.
Other factors threatening freshwater fish are the unsustainable and damaging fishing practices, the introduction of invasive non-native species, and, of course, the “escalating impact of climate change.”
Freshwater fish provide livelihoods to 60M people
Wild-caught freshwater fish provides food security and livelihood to hundreds of millions of people around the world.
It has been estimated that freshwater fish provides the primary source of animal protein, as well as essential nutrients, to at least 200 million people globally, particularly for vulnerable communities in Asia and Africa.
The report says that these fisheries are estimated to be worth U.S. $30 billion, i.e, nearly £22 billion.
Stuart Orr, Freshwater Lead at WWF, on Twitter said, “Freshwater fisheries provide food & livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people across the world. But 1/3rd are already threatened with extinction. A new report today shows why we need to save the world’s #ForgottenFishes.”
Hopes to restore world’s freshwater ecosystems
The authors of the report called out to authorities to take steps to protect the ecosystem and biodiversity.
The report says that the world must implement a six-pillar Emergency Recovery Plan for freshwater biodiversity.
The first pillar would be to let rivers flow more naturally, then improve the water quality in freshwater ecosystems, protect and restore critical habitats; end overfishing and unsustainable sand mining in rivers and lakes, prevent and control invasion by non-native species, and protect free-flowing rivers and remove obsolete dams.
“Only by implementing this plan, which is echoed in the Convention on Biological Diversity 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook,” the authors of the report said adding, “we can hope to restore the world’s freshwater ecosystems and reverse decades of decline in freshwater fish populations. By committing to this plan, countries can enhance the health of their rivers, lakes, and wetlands – and secure the future of their fish and fisheries.”