6 ways to help save migratory freshwater fish

Underwater photo of swimming woman wearing mask looking at golden fish

Nowhere is the world’s biodiversity crisis more acute than in freshwater ecosystems. Around 35% of wetlands have been lost in the past 50 years and only 1/3 of the world’s large rivers are still free flowing. WWF and partners recently released an update of the Living Planet Index (LPI) for Freshwater Migratory Fishes, which shows an 81% decline in migratory freshwater fish populations on average over the last 5 decades. This dramatic drop sounds an alarm for conservation efforts to protect these crucial species and preserve freshwater ecosystems. It is not just about protecting nature; it is essential for human survival too.

In the US alone, recreational anglers have transformed their weekend hobby into a bustling industry, generating hundreds of billions of dollars for the economy and creating nearly 1 million jobs. Globally, billions of people rely on fish as a vital protein source. Declines in freshwater biodiversity disrupt the delicate balance of life on our planet. The loss of freshwater fish threatens billions with food insecurity, plunges fishery-dependent economies into crisis, and triggers a catastrophic chain reaction leading to depleted waterways. 

The hope in this crisis lies in its cause: people. The Living Planet Index update provides six key recommendations to help save migratory fish populations: 

1 Keep a closer eye on freshwater fish populations

We need to improve how we track fish in different areas over a long period. This includes paying more attention to fish that move between different habitats, especially in places like Asia, Africa, and South America where we don't have as much information.

2 Take care of our rivers 

Work is needed on protecting and restoring rivers so they can flow freely. This fits with bigger plans like the EU's goal to restore nature and a country-led initiative focused on rivers and wetlands conservation and protection, called the Freshwater Challenge.

3 Know where fish need to go

There's an effort underway to map the important paths fish take when they move through rivers. Another name for these pathways is swimways, which are the routes that migratory fish need to be able to complete their life cycle and survive. It's important for countries to work together to maintain critical migration routes.

4 Understand and fix problems

Where fish populations are struggling, investigations may be needed to understand why. And then action can be undertaken to address the root causes, like leaving enough water in the river at certain times of the year, or removing barriers, such as dams, that stop fish from reaching important habitats.

5 Work together

Countries can team up to protect fish that travel long distances. This means adding more fish to lists of protected species, like the Convention on Migratory Species, and working together to look after them.

6 Get everyone involved

It's not just up to scientists and policymakers. We all have a role to play in caring for the rivers that provide water for us and for the fish. Individuals can donate to organizations that research and conserve freshwater fish, join local efforts to protect rivers and streams, advocate for and model responsible use of fresh water.

We have the tools to act now and reverse our negative impact. Together our actions can restore and protect freshwater habitats for future generations.

Learn more about migratory fish and swimways.