A recent World Wildlife Foundation report lays out a grim reality for the planet: “Nearly 1/3 of all freshwater fish are threatened with extinction.” The report, titled The World’s Forgotten Fishes, discusses the condition of freshwater fish throughout the globe. The productivity, biodiversity, and economic importance of freshwater ecosystems is often misunderstood and overlooked. According to the report, nearly 260 million people rely on freshwater fish for their food supply and livelihoods. As avid anglers and recreationists, we understand the value of freshwater fish more than most. Collectively, we power a multi-billion dollar fishing economy that benefits communities throughout the United States and globe. Today, the world’s freshwater fisheries and ecosystems face mounting threats.

These economies and life-supporting resources depend on healthy, productive freshwater ecosystems and our stewardship thereof. Unfortunately, the world’s freshwater ecosystems are in poor condition, and the fish species that inhabit these systems do not fare much better.

The report highlighted some amazing statistics:

  • Populations of migratory fishes – the travellers of the freshwater world, including sturgeon, salmon, hilsa and gilded catfish – have fallen by 76 percent since 1970;
  • We’ve lost 35 percent of the world’s remaining wetlands in the past 50 years;
  • Only a third of rivers over 1000km still flow freely from source to sea;
  • Just 40 percent of Europe’s waters are classified as in good ecological health;
  • 300-400 tons of pollution are dumped into freshwater ecosystems every year;
  • Agriculture uses around 70 percent of all water abstracted globally.

The condition of freshwater ecosystems is not great, but we are not at the point of no return–yet. Scientists have documented the many factors harming freshwater fish and  know what needs to be done. The report’s authors provided a six-pillar plan to restore freshwater ecosystems:

  1. Let rivers flow more naturally;
  2. Improve water quality in freshwater ecosystems;
  3. Protect and restore critical habitats;
  4. End overfishing and unsustainable sand mining in rivers and lakes;
  5. Prevent and control invasions by non-native species;
  6. Protect free-flowing rivers and remove obsolete dams.

“Ensuring a brighter future for the world’s freshwater fishes…will mean a brighter future for people and nature,” the report concluded. In the coming months, governments will convene at the Convention for Biodiversity and have the opportunity to chart a new, exciting path for the planet’s freshwater ecosystems and some of our favorite fisheries.

Cover picture courtesy of @gemichaels

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