The world’s freshwater fishes are in “terrible trouble,” with nearly a third facing extinction if humanity doesn’t swiftly change its ways to prevent major losses that would impact not only the species at risk but also hundreds of millions of people, according to a report released Tuesday by 16 conservation groups.
Published ahead of a crucial United Nations biodiversity summit scheduled for May, “The World’s Forgotten Fishes” details the “dazzling diversity” of freshwater fishes; their importance to food security, jobs, and ecosystems; threats posed by current human behavior; and how scientists suggest tackling the extinction crisis.
Although the various species of freshwater fish provide livelihoods for 60 million people and feed at least 200 million globally, particularly vulnerable and Indigenous communities across Africa, Asia and South America, when it comes to conservation, they are “overlooked and undervalued,” writes World Wildlife Fund International (WWF) executive director Jon Hutton in the report’s foreword.
“Freshwater fishes are also critical for the health of all kinds of ecosystems, and support food webs that extend from birds to bears, and from mountains to mangroves,” he adds. “Beyond that they drive multibillion-dollar industries for anglers and aquarium-lovers alike, while historically they’ve been entwined in cultures on every continent.”
As Hutton outlines: “There’s no mystery about why freshwater fish numbers are falling so precipitously: habitat degradation, poorly planned hydropower, pollution, over-abstraction of water, unsustainable sand mining, the introduction of invasive non-native species, wildlife crime and, of course, climate change are among the factors pushing fish populations to the brink.”