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Nearly 40 percent of America’s freshwater fish in danger

Nearly 40 percent of America’s freshwater fish in danger: 700 species face threats

Nearly 40 percent of America’s freshwater fish in danger

Jeremy Hance,
September 10, 2008

The most comprehensive study of America’s freshwater fish in twenty years has revealed that nearly 40 percent are threatened with extinction.

The study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), found that 700 species in America’s lakes and rivers are in danger. Classifying the fish by level of threat, the USGS listed 230 as vulnerable, 190 as threatened, and 280 as endangered. The study, published in Fisheries, also stated that 61 species have already gone extinct.

The last comprehensive study of America’s freshwater fish was conducted in 1989; at that time 364 species were threatened. With 700 currently in trouble, American freshwater fish have seen a 92 percent increase in imperiled species in less than twenty years. From 1989 to 2008, only 11 percent of species have shown any improvement: some moved up in status, while others have been delisted.
"Freshwater fish have continued to decline since the late 1970s, with the primary causes being habitat loss, dwindling range and introduction of non-native species," Mark Myers said, director of the USGS. "In addition, climate change may further affect these fish."

(pic 1) An endangered holiday darter (Amicola population). Darters are among the most threatened Southeastern fish; they have been likened to aquatic canaries. Photo by Noel Burkhead, USGS. (pic 2) A threatened Waccamaw killifish from the Southeastern Atlantic Slope. Photo courtesy of Fritz Rhode, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (pic 3) A threatened sicklefin redhorse from the Tennessee River. Photo courtesy of Steve Fraley, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. (pic 4) An endangered Alabama sturgeon from the Mobile River. Photo courtesy of Patrick O’Niel, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Some groups of species are more threatened than others. Nearly half of America’s carp, minnows, darters, and perches face an uncertain future. Despite their direct importance for people, commercial fish also face extinction. More than 60 percent of trout and salmon species either have an at-risk subspecies or a specific population in jeopardy. In addition 22 percent of sunfish species, a favorite game species, are threatened.
America’s fish are not the only group threatened in its lakes and river. "Freshwater crayfishes, snails and mussels are exhibiting similar or even greater levels of decline and extinction," said Noel Burkhead, a researcher with USGS and a lead author of the paper.

To save these species, the writers encourage more proactive management and increasing public awareness. They hope that the study contributes to the effort. "We believe this report will provide national and international resource managers, scientists and the conservation community with reliable information to establish conservation, management and recovery priorities," said Stephen Walsh, another lead author and USGS researcher.

The news comes on the heels of a wave of reports showing that threatened species are increasing exponentially around the world: 31 percent of amphibians are considered in jeopardy; one-third of coral species are threatened due; and just last month it was announced that 48 percent of primates are at risk of extinction, making it the world’s most threatened group.

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