One in three European freshwater fish threatened

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About one in three European freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction, according to the most authoritative study of European freshwater fish biodiversity to date, which has just been published in a book.

According to the Handbook of European Freshwater Fishes by Maurice Kottelat and Jrg Freyhof, 200 of Europe's 522 species of freshwater fish are already globally threatened with extinction, with 62 species considered critically endangered.

Twelve species of bony fishes (Romanogobio antipai, Alburnus danubicus, Coregonus bezola, Coregonus fera, Coregonus hiemalis, Coregonus restrictus, Coregonus gutturosus, Coregonus oxyrhinchus, Salmo schiefermuelleri, Salvelinus neocomensis, Salvelinus profundus and Gasterosteus crenobiontus) and one species of lamprey (Eudontomyzon sp. migratory) are already extinct.

The threats come from a variety of anthropogenic sources, which include overfishing, pollution, and the construction of dams that cause rivers to dry up.

The areas which face the greatest threat include the lower reaches of the Danube, Dniestr, Dniepr, Volga and Ural rivers, the Balkan Peninsula, and southwestern Spain.

Some of the species under threat include the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), which reproduces once every 20 years on average and for which current populations are at about 5 per cent of the level in the 1970s; the Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser sturio), not caught in the wild in many European countries since the early to mid 1990s; the Haweswater charr (Salvelinus lonsdalii), which is only known from Lake Haweswater in Cumbria; and the Vistonis shemaya (Alburnus vistonicus), a species of bleak from eastern Greece that was recently described earlier this year.

According to William Darwall, Senior Programme Officer, IUCN Species Programme, "With 200 fish species in Europe facing a high risk of going extinct we must act now to avoid a tragedy. Many of these species, not considered as charismatic or with any apparent value to people, rarely attract the funds needed for their conservation - they risk disappearing with only a dedicated few noticing the loss. These species are an important part of our heritage and are critical to the freshwater ecosystems upon which we do depend, such as for water purification and flood control. Many of these species can be saved through relatively simple measures. All we need is the public and political will to make it happen.

The Handbook of European Freshwater Fishes provides information on the habitat, biology, distribution, methods of identification and conservation status of 546 European native freshwater fish species (522 freshwater and 24 marine species that are found in freshwater) and 33 introduced species.

The seven years' research that went into the book also resulted in the discovery of 47 new species of European freshwater fishes.

The book is produced in collaboration with the World Conservation Union (IUCN), with the threat assessment conducted in collaboration with the IUCN Species Programme and Species Survival Commission Freshwater Fish Specialist Group and financially supported by the North of England Zoological Society (Chester Zoo).