Overfishing is the major threat to fish species in European seas, according to the European Red List of Marine Fishes released today by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the European Commission, and carried out in collaboration with Oceana. Despite gradual improvements in EU fisheries management, the report finds that 58 of the 59 species identified as being threatened with extinction are threatened by fishing, whether through targeted exploitation, bycatch, or indirect fisheries impacts on habitats.
“The results of the new European Red List assessment clearly show the far-reaching consequences of poor EU fisheries management. It’s not only a matter of Europe’s overfished stocks, but also a matter of the long-term survival of our marine fishes. Only through strict compliance with EU legislation, such as the Common Fisheries Policy and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, will we guarantee both healthy stocks and safeguard the wide range of species affected by fishing activities,” stated Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe.
The most threatened group of fishes (40.4%) are the chondrichthyans (cartilaginous fishes such as sharks and rays), which account for all 15 of the species assessed as Critically Endangered, and 15 of the 22 species assessed as endangered. Among these fishes are species such as the Critically Endangered Maltese skate and Angelshark, both of which are primarily threatened due to bycatch in bottom trawls and are now restricted to very small areas. Worryingly, extinction risk to sharks and rays has increased during the last decade, mainly because of high levels of unregulated fishing in the Mediterranean Sea.
Other threatened species include commercial deep-sea fishes, such as roundnose grenadier and deepwater redfish; groupers such as the dusky grouper and comb grouper; and flatfishes such as Atlantic halibut and turbot. These species highlight the critical importance of setting fishing opportunities that are scientifically-based, which will allow stocks to rebuild to healthy levels, and ensure compliance with EU fisheries regulations.
The new Red List assessment is the most comprehensive such evaluation ever, and includes all 1220 marine fishes in European waters. Oceana collaborated in the project, and led the assessment of 29 fish species. Overall, the report finds that 7.5% of marine fish in EU waters are considered threatened. However, this figure could be as high as 27%, depending on the status of species which could not be evaluated because of data limitations.
“For 204 species, we simply don’t know whether they are at risk of extinction, because considerable gaps remain in our knowledge about their biology and populations. That does not prevent them, however, from being commercially exploited,” added Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director of Oceana in Europe. “The Red List provides a strong foundation for prioritising actions at the EU level, such as taking immediate measures to reduce catches of threatened species, ensuring that fishing opportunities are set based on the best available scientific information, and collecting better biological and fisheries information about data-deficient species.”