New assessment highlights overfishing threat

10 Jun 2015
The Critically Endangered angelshark, which was formerly found throughout European waters, is now mostly restricted to the Canary Islands due to the impacts of fisheries bycatch. Credit: Philippe Guillaume – Slingshot/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Critically Endangered angelshark, which was formerly found throughout European waters, is now mostly restricted to the Canary Islands due to the impacts of fisheries bycatch. Credit: Philippe Guillaume – Slingshot/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The recently published European Red List of Threatened Species has found that a total of 7.5% of all European marine fish species are threatened with extinction in European waters.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report – financed by the European Commission – has found that while some species are recovering, marine management has been less successful for many other commercial fishes, with 40.4% of European sharks, rays and chimaeras facing an elevated risk of extinction.

The Red List report is the first ever complete assessment of marine fishes native to Europe, assessing all of the 1,220 species present in the Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Baltic Sea, North Sea, and the Northeast Atlantic Ocean, including many highly exploited species that support large commercial, recreational, and artisanal fisheries. The highest number of threatened species can be found in the Mediterranean Sea, the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula and the Macaronesian islands.

Sharks, rays and chimaeras were found to be the most threatened marine fishes in Europe, with 40.4% of them threatened with extinction, and 39.7% experiencing declining populations.

"These findings are crucial for informing policy on nature and maritime affairs, and effectively implementing EU legislation, such as the Habitats Directive, the Marine Strategy Framework and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directives, to improve the status of threatened marine species,” said Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Policy. “They also demonstrate the need to ensure full compliance with the requirements under the Common Fisheries Policy by harvesting species at levels which ensure Maximum Sustainable Yield for all EU fisheries."

The report shows that existing marine management measures have been successful for certain species, such as the Atlantic cod or Atlantic bluefin tuna, whose stocks have improved. However, for some other species, such as the Atlantic halibut (Vulnerable), Atlantic salmon (Vulnerable) and turbot (Vulnerable), management has been less effective.

“While we have seen some progress, it is alarming that many commercially and ecologically important species continue to be at risk in Europe,” added Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). “We need to take urgent action to reduce target and incidental catches of threatened species, and to set and enforce fishing quotas based on scientific understanding of population declines and multi-annual management plans for all commercial species of marine fishes.”

The report identifies overfishing as the main threat to marine fishes in Europe, both in targeted fisheries and as bycatch. Other major threats include coastal development, energy production and mining, as well as pollution and climate change.

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