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New WWF report: a third of all freshwater fish worldwide are threatened

Sockeye Salmon, Red Salmon, Sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) On spawning migration, 2010 run, Adams river, British Columbia, Canada, 10-10-2010 Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) On spawning migration, 2010 Run, Adams river, British Columbia, Canada, 10-10-2010 Saumon rouge (Oncorhynchus nerka) Migration vers les fray res, Rivi re Adams, Colombie Britannique, Canada, 10-10-2010

80 fish species have already died out, 16 of them last year - In Austria, 60 percent of all fish species are on the red list - WWF calls for an end to the construction, overuse and pollution of water bodies

A new report by the nature conservation organization WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) warns of the worldwide fish death and its consequences. Globally, one third of all freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction. 80 species are already extinct, 16 of them last year alone. Overall, the biodiversity in rivers and lakes is declining twice as quickly as that in the seas or forests worldwide, writes the WWF together with 16 other organizations in its report. “All over the world, freshwater fish suffer from the massive destruction and pollution of their habitats.

The main causes include hydropower plants and dams, water abstraction for irrigation and pollution from industry, agriculture and households. Then there are the extreme consequences of the climate crisis and overfishing, ”says WWF river expert Gerhard Egger. According to the report, the studied stocks of migratory freshwater fish have declined worldwide by 1970 percent since 76, and those of large fish species by as much as 94 percent. “Nowhere else is the global natural crisis more noticeable than in our rivers, lakes and wetlands,” warns Gerhard Egger.

Austria is also particularly affected. Of the 73 native fish species, around 60 percent are on the Red List of Threatened Species - as endangered, critically endangered or even threatened with extinction. Seven species have already died out here - such as the eel and the large migratory fish species Hausen, Waxdick and Glattdick. “We have to put an end to massive construction, overuse and pollution. Otherwise the dramatic death of the fish will accelerate ”, says WWF expert Gerhard Egger. The WWF is demanding a rescue package from the federal government that will ecologically rehabilitate rivers, remove unnecessary barriers and prevent the last free-flowing rivers from being blocked. “This requires strong nature conservation criteria in the Renewable Expansion Act. New power plants have no place in protected areas in particular, ”says Egger.

The lack of patency of rivers due to thousands upon thousands of hydroelectric power stations and other barriers is one of the main reasons for the collapse of fish stocks, according to WWF. “Fish must be able to migrate, but in Austria only 17 percent of all river stretches are considered free-flowing. From an ecological point of view, 60 percent are in need of renovation, ”explains Gerhard Egger. In addition, the climate crisis is also severely affecting the fish. Higher water temperatures favor the spread of diseases, cause a lack of oxygen and minimize breeding success. The far too high input of pollutants and nutrients - hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, street sewage - also makes a significant contribution to the decline in fish stocks.

Construction, poaching and overfishing

The WWF cites several examples of the threat to fish in the report. After the construction of the Farakka barrage in the 1970s, the Hilsa fishery in the Indian Ganges collapsed from a yield of 19 tons of fish to just one ton per year. Poaching for illegal caviar is a major reason sturgeons are among the most endangered animal families in the world. Excessive catches in the Amur River contributed to a catastrophic decline in Russia's largest salmon population. In the summer of 2019, no more keta salmon were found in the spawning areas. Construction, poaching and overfishing harm both fish and people. Because freshwater fish are the main source of protein for 200 million people worldwide.

The huchen is particularly endangered in Austria. The largest salmon-like fish in Europe is only found in around 50 percent of the former range. It can reproduce naturally to just 20 percent. There are good stocks or high development potential on only around 400 kilometers of the river. Of these, only nine percent are effectively protected. Power plants are also planned for the Huchen's last retreat areas - such as the Mur and Ybbs.

Download the WWF report 'The World's Forgotten Fishes':

Photo: Michel Roggo

Written by WWF

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