Migratory fish are dazzlingly diverse, crucially important to millions worldwide, and dangerously overlooked, urges new report.
On February 23rd, a new report from WWF and fifteen other global conservation organizations was released highlighting the stunning diversity, disastrous decline, and vital importance of freshwater fish for the world's ecosystems, economies, and cultures. The report is both a celebration of freshwater fish, and a call to action for citizens and policymakers around the globe to save our overlooked freshwater ecosystems.
World’s Forgotten Fishes details the extraordinary variety of freshwater fish species, with the latest discoveries taking the total to 18,075 – accounting for over half of all the world’s fish species and a quarter of all vertebrate species on Earth. This wealth of species is essential to the health of the world’s rivers, lakes and wetlands – and supports societies and economies across the globe.
Freshwater fishes continue to be undervalued and overlooked – and thousands of species are now heading towards extinction. Indeed, 80 species of freshwater fish have already been declared ‘Extinct’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including 16 in 2020 alone. Freshwater biodiversity is declining at twice the rate of that in our oceans or forests. Populations of migratory freshwater fish have fallen by 76 per cent since 1970 and mega-fish by a catastrophic 94 percent.
Why does this matter
Freshwater fisheries provide the main source of protein for 200 million people across Asia, Africa and South America, as well as jobs and livelihoods for 60 million people. Healthy freshwater fish stocks also sustain two huge global industries: recreational fishing generates over US$100 billion annually, while aquarium fishes are the world’s most popular pets and drive a global trade worth up to US$30 billion.
Climate change, hydropower, overfishing, over abstraction of water for irrigation, and pollution are among the key reasons freshwater species populations have plummeted. We need to implement priority actions that will reverse the loss of migratory freshwater fish and all freshwater biodiversity – for the benefit of people and nature.
The world must seize the opportunity to secure an ambitious and implementable global biodiversity agreement at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) conference in Kunming, China – one that must, for the first time, pay just as much attention to protecting and restoring our freshwater life support systems as the world’s forests and oceans.
This is why we at the World Fish Migration Foundation are dedicated to the restoration of freshwater ecosystems. We do this through supporting and executing barrier removals, raising awareness through events like World Fish Migration Day, and connecting friends of migratory fish around the globe to share knowledge and increase our impact on decision makers. Through collaboration, dam removals, and awareness, we know we can once again see rivers full of fish, healthy ecosystems, and thriving communities.