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Conserving Freshwater Fishes

Helen Meatcher
Water as a resource
• Freshwater is a
finite resource
• Of the world’s
fresh water 99%
is unavailable to
terrestrial and
Water as a resource
• Lakes and rivers
constitute < 0.001% of
the world’s total water

• 22, 000 fish species

extant globally, almost
half found in freshwater
Freshwater habitats

• Considered to be transient in time and space compared to

marine habitats.
• River systems considered to be longer-lived than most
• Persistence reflected in species diversity. Can also be seen
in long lived lakes such as Baikal and Tanganika.
What is a fresh water fish?
• Not all freshwater fish are restricted to a
freshwater habitat.
– Stenohaline, live all their live in fresh water and
are physiologically adapted to cope with a
restricted osmotic range of fresh water, e.g.
cichlids, carps.
– Euryhaline, can adapt to a wide range of
salinities. These include migratory fish such as
salmonids and those that live in brackish waters,
e.g. elasmobranchs and eels.
Freshwater Fish as a resource:
• Capture fisheries

– Comprising of subsistence /artisanal or

large scale fisheries.

– Evidence that the actual capture

fisheries catch may be twice the
reported total i.e. 12 million tones per
year (Coates, 1995).

• Aquaculture.
– Breeding fish for consumption
Freshwater Fish as a resource:
For Fun
• Ornamental fish trade:
where they can have cultural
and aesthetic significance.

– $5 billion global ornamental fishery

grows 8 per cent annually. the
largest importer is the U.S. ($500
million), followed by Europe and
Japan (NABARD).

• Sports fisheries.
Why conserve freshwater fish
• They provide good research tools as models for
evolutionary processes
– guppies, Anne Magurran.

• Used in drug discovery

– zebra fish, eggs and larvae.

• Can help reduce vectors of significant diseases such as

Dengue fever
– the mosquito fish, Gambusia affinis, in southern USA.
Conflict between human uses of fresh
water and protecting biodiversity

Examples are: 2006

• Abstraction, irrigation for agriculture
or for industrial processing.
– The Aral sea is all but dried up due to
industrial abstraction upstream, with
consequent release of toxins into the
dwindling water supply.
• Habitat modification, fragmentation
and destruction.
How are the problems being

• Condition of extant species monitored, evaluated and

reported on.
• Conservation organisations are providing information
to stakeholders in economic infrastructure.
• Information disseminated to wider public as well as
stakeholders, as education key to change.
What is the future of fresh water
fish conservation
• IUCN and Wetlands Group have created the Freshwater Fish
Specialist Group, which brings together a global network of experts.

• Aim of FFSG is to bring awareness of the importance of conserving

freshwater fish species and wetland habitats to the fore, and raise
funds for conservation action in the field and the production of
reference literature - “Handbook of European Freshwater Fishes”.

• Threatened species can quickly become extinct, with a loss to

global biodiversity. Where species drive an economy or are a staple
food, action must be taken by governments to prevent their loss.

• Change will be driven by the educated choice of ordinary people.

This will come about by bringing wider attention to this very political
Any questions?