Over 40 fish may become extinct in the Mediterranean

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There could be 43 fewer fish species in the Mediterranean in the next 40 years, according to a recent report released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In a study on the conservation status of 513 species (and six subspecies) of marine fish in the Mediterranean Sea, the IUCN found that almost half of the species of sharks and rays (cartilaginous fish) and at least 12 species of bony fish are threatened with extinction. 

The main threats have been identified as overfishing, habitat degradation and pollution.

A number of these threatened or near-threatened species include commercially important ones such as the Atlantic Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), pictured above, Dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus), Sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and Hake (Merluccius merluccius); all of the (regional) declines are attributable to overfishing.

According to IUCN Global Marine Species Assessment Coordinator Kent Carpenter, "The Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic population of the Atlantic Bluefin tuna is of particular concern. There has been an estimated 50% decline in this species’ reproduction potential over the past 40 years due to intensive overfishing. The lack of compliance with current quotas combined with widespread underreporting of the catch may have undermined conservation efforts for this species in the Mediterranean."

The widespread use of unselective fishing gear (e.g. bottom trawls) in the region has led to large quantities of bycatch (which threaten non-commercial species), as well as considerable habitat destruction. The study also emphasises the need to reinforce fishing regulations, create new marine reserves, reduce pollution and review fishing quotas, in particular the number of captures allowed for threatened species.

The number of threatened fish species within the Mediterranean could be set to increase, as the report also identified one-third of those surveyed as lacking information (Data Deficient).  It is likely that further research would show some of these Data Deficient species would in fact be threatened.