From hefty tuna to tiny anchovies, most of the world’s favorite fish species are found in the oceans. But in the recently published World’s Forgotten Fishes Report, 16 global conservation organizations make the case for looking after our freshwater fish as more and more of these species are threatened with extinction.

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Just over half of the world’s fish species are freshwater species, consisting of about one-quarter of all vertebrate species on Earth. But almost one-third of freshwater fish species face possible extinction. Since 1970, migratory freshwater fish have declined by 76%. What are known as mega-fish — weighing in at more than 30 kilograms — have declined by 94% in the same timeframe. These fish are critical to the food security and livelihood of hundreds of millions of people.

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“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,” Stuart Orr, WWF global freshwater lead, said in a statement. “They are the aquatic version of the canary in the coalmine, and we must heed the warning.”

Habitat destruction, destructive fishing practices, invasive species, industrial pollution and hydropower dams are just a few of the threats freshwater fish face in their everyday lives, according to The World’s Forgotten Fishes Report. Even their eggs are in danger — illegal caviar poaching is one of the reasons sturgeons top the list of threatened fish. These giants are now on the brink of extinction after having survived since the days of dinosaurs. Meanwhile, critically endangered European eels, known for their mysterious migration pattern of swimming up to 8,000 km to spawn in the Sargasso Sea, may find their travels cut short, poached for the illegal wildlife trade.

“Despite their importance to local communities and Indigenous people across the globe, freshwater fish are invariably forgotten and not factored into development decisions about hydropower dams or water use or building on floodplains,” Orr said. “Freshwater fish matter to the health of people and the freshwater ecosystems that all people and all life on land depend on. It’s time we remembered that.”


Image via Geoff Parsons