Freshwater Fisheries Face ‘Catastrophic’ Decline

New research published on Tuesday revealed that thousands of fish species, or one-third of all freshwater fishes, are already facing a “catastrophic” decline and on the brink of extinction.

A report that was published by 16 global conservation organizations indicated that 18,075 species of freshwater fish inhabit large bodies of water around the world. Their population accounts for approximately 50 percent of the entire world’s fish species and 25 percent of all vertebrate species on Earth.

The researchers’ study, entitled “The World’s Forgotten Fishes”, indicated that freshwater fisheries are critical for the health, food security, and livelihoods of millions of people around the world, especially across Asia, Africa and South America.

However, researchers said that despite the importance of the freshwater fishes, they were continuously undervalued and overlooked by many, pushing thousands of them towards the brink of extinction.

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 80 species of freshwater fishes were already declared as “extinct”, including 16 in 2020 alone.

The report also revealed that the overall population of migratory fishes has fallen by more than three-quarters over the past five decades, while the populations of larger species, also called “mega fish”, have crashed by 94 percent.

“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 coal mine, and we must heed the warning,” said World Wildlife Fund’s Stuart Orr.

Highlighting the perilous impacts of man-made environmental hazards and climate change on the freshwater ecosystem, the conservation groups eye to secure an “implementable global biodiversity agreement” during the UN Convention on Biological Diversity conference that will be held in May to focus on the protection and restoration of “our freshwater life support systems as the world’s forests and oceans.”

“What we need now is to recognize the value of freshwater fish and fisheries, and for governments to commit to new targets and solutions implementation, as well as prioritizing which freshwater ecosystems need protection and restoration. We also need to see partnerships and innovation through collective action involving governments, businesses, investors, civil society and communities,” Orr added.

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