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Report stresses perils of ‘forgotten fish’

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Conservation organisations have found that one in three of the world’s least-regarded freshwater fish threatened with extinction. WWF

Report stresses perils of ‘forgotten fish’

Sixteen global conservation organisations around the world have found that one in three of the world’s least-regarded freshwater fishes are threatened with extinction.

And while many of Cambodia’s freshwater fish are banned for expert, they still end up being trafficked to other countries.

The findings were presented by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Cambodia on March 4 in the report “World’s Forgotten Fishes”.

This report details the extraordinary variety of freshwater fish species, with the latest discoveries taking the total to 18,075 – accounting for over half of all the world’s fish species and a quarter of all vertebrate species on Earth.

The organisations stressed that the world’s freshwater fishes are important for the health, food security and livelihoods of millions of people. But these fishes have been increasingly threatened.

“Freshwater fisheries provide the main source of protein for 200 million people across Asia, Africa and South America, as well as jobs and livelihoods for 60 million people,” the reported stated.

Healthy freshwater fish stocks also sustain two huge global industries – recreational fishing generates over $100 billion annually, while aquarium fishes are the world’s most popular pets and drive a global trade worth up to $30 billion, according to the report.

WWF global freshwater practice leader Stuart Orr said the world’s nature crisis is more acute in our rivers, lakes and wetlands, and the clearest indicator of the damage we are doing is the rapid decline in freshwater fish populations.

He said the decline was an emergency for freshwater resources that everyone must pay close attention to.

“What we need now is to recognise the value of freshwater fish and fisheries, and for governments to commit to new targets and solutions, as well as prioritising which freshwater ecosystems need protection and restoration. We also need to see partnerships and innovation through collective action involving governments, businesses, investors, civil society and communities,” Orr said.

According to the report, 80 species of freshwater fish have already been declared “Extinct” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, including 16 freshwater fishes recorded as endangered in 2020 alone.

Meanwhile, freshwater fish populations have fallen by 76 per cent since 1970 and mega-fish by a catastrophic 94 per cent.

Seng teak, Country Director of WWF in Cambodia said that according to the result of a rapid market assessment on endangered fish trade, conducted in 2020 by WWF in Cambodia showed that Giant Barb, Isok Barb, Giant Goonch, Mekong Tiger Perch, Elephant-ear Gourami and Mekong Freshwater Stingray are among 35 fish species that were traded and sold at wet markets in Cambodia, as well as being trafficked into neighbouring countries.

He added that giant Barb and Isok Barb are classified as critically endangered both globally and in Cambodia, while Giant Goonch, Mekong Tiger Perch, Elephant-ear Gourami are classified as endangered in the Kingdom.

“Despite their importance to local communities, freshwater fish are invariably forgotten. Freshwater fish matter to the health of people and the freshwater ecosystems that all people and all life on land depend on. It’s time we remembered that,” he said.

With over 1,100 species of fish, the Mekong River is one of the world’s most productive inland fisheries. Cambodian people currently get around 16 per cent of their animal protein and 28 per cent of their lysine from freshwater fish of the Mekong River basin.

The 2017 Annual Fisheries Production Report by the Cambodian Government’s Fisheries Administration showed that fisheries sector contributes eight per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

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