Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 1–27 | Cite as

Have fishes had their chips? The dilemma of threatened fishes

  • Michael N. Bruton


The conservation status and factors threatening fishes worldwide are reviewed in order to introduce a series of one-page articles on ‘Threatened fishes of the world’, and to encourage the incorporation of information on threatened fishes into international conservation programmes. Information on fish extinction and threat rates are compared with those of other animal groups, and the unique characteristics of fish conservation problems are highlighted. At present 979 species of fishes are listed as threatened in the IUCN Red List and at least 36 species and three subspecies are listed as recently extinct. It is argued that these figures are probably gross underestimates and that they may mislead conservation authorities and resource users about the seriousness of the situation. Freshwater fishes may be the most threatened group of vertebrates after the Amphibia. Urgent action is required to save many narrowly endemic, stenotopic species from extinction, especially in Africa, Asia and South America. The conservation of common species that drive essential ecological processes is also important. Anthropogenic pressures, especially habitat degradation, the introduction of invasive species and pollution, on inland and coastal waters are particularly severe and many major fish communities are threatened with elimination throughout the world. The conservation of marine fishes is complicated by the fact that it is difficult to ascertain their rarity. The importance of the retention of genetic variation is highlighted, and both orthodox and innovative conservation measures are encouraged. Further research on minimum viable populations, genetics, and the factors that cause fishes to become vulnerable to extinction, is urgently required.

Key words

Conservation Extinction Rarity Biodiversity Breeding guilds Endemism Speciation Habitat degradation Environmental management Invasive fishes Genetics Ecology Stenotopy Captive propagation Legislation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael N. Bruton
    • 1
  1. 1.J.L.B. Smith Institute of IchthyologyGrahamstownSouth Africa

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