Freshwater fish are in “catastrophic” decline, with one-third at risk of extinction, according to the report

Thousands of species of fish are facing a “catastrophic” decline – threatening the health, food security and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. New research shows that a third of all freshwater fish now face extinction.

According to a report published on 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. It is biodiversity it is critical to maintaining not only the health of the planet, but 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 Forgotten Fishes”. About a third of these people also depend on them for their jobs and livelihoods.

Despite their importance, freshwater fish are “undervalued and neglected”, the researchers said – and now freshwater biodiversity is decreasing twice as much as in oceans and forests.

Eighty freshwater species have already been declared extinct – 16 of them in 2020 alone.

Thousands of dead freshwater fish are seen around Lake Koroneia, Greece, on September 19, 2019.


“Nowhere is the world’s nature crisis more acute than in our rivers, lakes and swamps, and the clearest indicator of the damage we are causing is the rapid decline in freshwater fish populations. They are the aquatic version of the canary in the coal mine, and we must pay attention to 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 overlooked and are not taken into account in development decisions about hydroelectric dams or use of water or construction in floodplains.”

Migratory species have dropped more than three-quarters in the past 50 years, while populations of larger species, known as “megafixe”, have decreased by 94% “catastrophic”.

Freshwater ecosystems face a devastating combination of threats – including habitat destruction, hydroelectric dams, over-watering for irrigation, various types of pollution, over-fishing, introduction of invasive species and ongoing climate change.

Organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, Global Wildlife Conservation and The Nature Conservancy are now calling on governments to implement an “Emergency Recovery Plan” to save freshwater biodiversity. They recommend protecting and restoring rivers, water quality and essential habitats – undoing the damage caused by overfishing.

“Freshwater fish are important for people’s health and for the freshwater ecosystems on which all people and all life on earth depend,” said Orr. “It’s time to remember that.”