Thousands of fish species are facing “catastrophic” decline, threatening the health, food security and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world. New research shows that a third of all freshwater fish now face extinction.
According to a report released Tuesday by 16 global conservation groups, 18,075 species of freshwater fish inhabit our oceans, representing more than half of the world’s total fish species and a quarter of all vertebrates on Earth. This biodiversity it is critical to maintaining not only the health of the planet, but also the economic prosperity of communities around the world.
About 200 million people in Asia, Africa and South America depend on freshwater fishermen as their main source of protein, the researchers said in the report “The World’s Forgotten Fishes.” About a third of those people also depend on them for their work and livelihood.
Despite their importance, freshwater fish are “undervalued and overlooked,” the researchers said, and now freshwater biodiversity is declining at twice the rate of oceans and forests.
Eighty freshwater species have already been declared extinct, 16 of them in 2020 alone.
“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 rapidly declining freshwater fish populations. They are the aquatic version. the canary in the coal mine, and we must heed the warning, “said Stuart Orr of the World Wildlife Fund. “Despite their importance to local communities and indigenous peoples around the world, freshwater fish are invariably forgotten and not taken into account in development decisions about hydroelectric dams or the use of water or construction in alluvial plains “.
Migratory species have declined by more than three-quarters in the last 50 years, while populations of larger species, known as “megafish,” have declined by a “catastrophic” 94%.
Freshwater ecosystems face a devastating combination of threats, including habitat destruction, hydroelectric dams, excessive withdrawal of water for irrigation, various types of pollution, overfishing, the introduction of invasive species, and ongoing climate change.
Organizations like the World Wide Fund for Nature, Global Wildlife Conservation and The Nature Conservancy have called on governments to implement an “Emergency Recovery Plan” to save freshwater biodiversity. They recommend protecting and restoring rivers, water quality and crucial habitats, undoing the damage caused by overfishing.
“Freshwater fish are important to the health of people and the freshwater ecosystems on which all people and all life on earth depend,” Orr said. “It is time for us to remember that.”