Report Details ‘Catastrophic Decline’ of Migratory Fish

A migrating salmon in Finland.

A migrating salmon in Finland. Petteri Hautamaa / WWF Finland

Populations of salmon, trout, eel, sturgeon, and other migrating freshwater fish have shrunk by 81 percent on average since 1970, a new report finds.

“The catastrophic decline in migratory fish populations is a deafening wake-up call for the world,” said Herman Wanningen, founder of the World Fish Migration Foundation, one of the groups behind the report. “We cannot continue to let them slip silently away.”

The analysis, published by a coalition of conservation groups, finds that fish have been in decline for 30 years, and that their collapse is most severe in Latin America and in Europe. Humans are driving the losses by overfishing, polluting waterways, damming rivers, converting wetlands to farmland, and by fueling warming.

The report offered a silver lining, however, finding that nearly one-third of species studied have grown in number. Analysts credited the creation of new fish sanctuaries, greater legal protections for migrating fish, and the removal of dams. Last year, 487 barriers came down in Europe, while in the U.S., the biggest-ever dam removal got underway on the Klamath River in California and Oregon.

The report called for expanding such efforts to better protect migratory fish. Said Michele Thieme, of the World Wildlife Fund, “Prioritizing river protection, restoration, and connectivity is key to safeguarding these species.”


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