UK News Third of freshwater fish threatened by extinction with habitats in 'catastrophic decline'

07:50  23 february  2021
07:50  23 february  2021 Source:   news.sky.com

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A report has warned of a " catastrophic " decline in freshwater fish , with nearly a third threatened by extinction . In UK waters , the sturgeon and the burbot have vanished, salmon are disappearing and the European eel remains critically endangered. According to the WWF, much of the decline is driven by the poor state of rivers, mostly as a result of pollution, dams and sewage. It has called on the government to restore freshwater habitats to good health through proper enforcement of existing laws, strengthening protections in the Environment Bill and championing a strong set of global targets for

Twenty-two native freshwater fish have been identified as likely to become extinct within the next twenty years, unless there is new conservation action, according to new research. The list of at risk species identified in the study includes the Daintree rainbowfish, Barrow cave gudgeon, red-finned Many people are unaware of the catastrophic declines of many native fish species since the 1950s. Only one fish species, the Pedder galaxias, is officially recorded as extinct in the wild but we know we have lost one before it was described have almost certainly lost other species before we even knew

Nearly a third of fish living in rivers and lakes around the world are facing extinction as their habitats are in "catastrophic decline", a report has warned.

a fish swimming under water: Salmon leap up the weir at Hexham in Northumberland © PA Salmon leap up the weir at Hexham in Northumberland

Freshwater species, which make up more than half of the world's fish species, are central to the livelihoods of 60 million people and the diets of many others.

Some 30% of the 10,336 fish assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are at risk of extinction, according to a report from 16 organisations including WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

a close up of a hillside next to a body of water: These fields in Norfolk have been rewilded to protect freshwater species © PA These fields in Norfolk have been rewilded to protect freshwater species

Populations of migratory freshwater fish have fallen by 76% since 1970, while 80 species have been declared extinct.

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"These fish communities are like miners' canaries," Dr Joy says. "They have a strong message for us - our freshwater ecosystems are in dire straits and more than half of our native freshwater fish species are classed as being at risk of extinction . "These fish are long-lived species and their demise is indicative of long-term declines in the condition of their habitats . "The causes are the intensification of agriculture and increased urbanisation eading to increases in sediment and nutrients inputs into rivers and treams. These changes are revealed in the chemical measures monitored nationally by NIWA

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Burbot and sturgeon are already extinct in the UK, the European eel is critically endangered and salmon have seen significant declines since the 1960s.

Much of the decline in the UK has been driven by the poor state of habitats, with none of England's rivers meeting "chemical standards" for water quality last year.

a fish swimming under water: Salmon have seen significant declines since the 1960s © PA Salmon have seen significant declines since the 1960s

This is thought to be a result of agricultural pollution, dams and sewage, WWF said.

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Globally, similar habitats face threats such as destruction, dams on free-flowing rivers, too much water being taken for agriculture, and pollution.

Fish are also threatened by destructive fishing practices, overfishing, the impacts of climate change, wildlife crime, mining for sand in their habitats and the introduction of non-native species.

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Fresh waters are experiencing declines in biodiversity far greater than those in the most affected terrestrial ecosystems [1], [2]. Dam construction has dramatically increased habitat fragmentation and degradation in freshwaters, which is likely to have incurred a large unredeemed extinction debt [3]. However, this debt is not work in other habitats , such as tropical forests [4], [5], [6]. A fundamental, yet unanswered question for conservation biology is how rapidly freshwater species disappear from river fragments and which factors influence the extinction of freshwater species in habitat patches.

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WWF has urged the UK government to support an emergency recovery plan for freshwater wildlife which has been drawn up by a global team of scientists.

The plan would include measures such as reducing pollution, ending overfishing, controlling invasive species and allowing rivers to flow more naturally.

Dave Tickner, chief adviser on freshwater at WWF, said: "Freshwater habitats are some of the most vibrant on earth, but - as this report shows - they are in catastrophic decline around the world.

"Nature is in freefall and the UK is no exception: wildlife struggles to survive, let alone thrive, in our polluted waters."

A Defra spokesperson said: "We remain committed to working closely with water companies, farmers and the fishing industry to restore healthy fish stocks and habitats both through domestic action and international working."

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