More fish in Lake Malawi at risk of extinction

Posted on November, 14 2018

Updated IUCN Red List of threatened species released ahead of world's largest biodiversity conference
While conservation action has brought renewed hope for some species, today’s update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals that overfishing is causing fish species in parts of the developing world to decline.

According to the updated list, 9 per cent of the 458 fish species assessed in Lake Malawi are at high risk of extinction, causing concern for regional food security. Three out of the four species of Chambo (Oreochromis karongae, Oreochromis squamipinnis, Oreochromis lidole) – Malawi’s most economically valuable fish – are Critically Endangered. Chambo fisheries are now on the brink of collapse.

Over one-third of Malawians depend on Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest lake, for their food and livelihoods. Similar findings were highlighted in a recent report from the Lake Victoria Basin, where three quarters of all endemic freshwater species are threatened. Local livelihoods in several East African countries dependent on resources from these lakes are threatened by unsustainable fishing.

“At least two billion people depend directly on inland freshwater fisheries such as Lake Malawi for their survival,” says William Darwall, Head of IUCN’s Freshwater Species Unit. “Almost 80% of catch from freshwater fisheries comes from food-deficit countries - where the general population does not have sufficient food to meet recommended daily calorie intake - yet freshwater resources are not prioritised on national or international agendas.”

“Target 6 of the UN Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, focused on avoidance of overfishing, will therefore be missed. This omission puts local livelihoods at risk and increases the risk of food insecurity across the world,” added Darwall.

The worrying news about freshwater fishes in Lake Malawi comes just weeks after the release of WWF’s Living Planet Report, which found that freshwater species populations had continued to fall and have now declined by 83 per cent since 1970.
Meanwhile, the first reassessment of all 167 species of grouper – an economically valuable type of sea bass occurring widely in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Indo-Pacific regions – confirms that 13% are threatened by overfishing.

However, there was good news for the Fin Whale, which has improved in status from Endangered to Vulnerable following bans on whaling, and the Mountain Gorilla subspecies, which has moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered thanks to collaborative conservation efforts.

The IUCN Red List now includes 96,951 species of which 26,840 are threatened with extinction.

“Today’s update to The IUCN Red List illustrates the power of conservation action, with the recoveries we are seeing of the Fin Whale and the Mountain Gorilla,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “These conservation successes are proof that the ambitious, collaborative efforts of governments, business and civil society could turn back the tide of species loss. Unfortunately, the latest update also underlines how threats to biodiversity continue to undermine some of society’s most important goals, including food security.”

“We urgently need to see effective conservation action strengthened and sustained. The ongoing UN biodiversity summit in Egypt provides a valuable opportunity for decisive action to protect the diversity of life on our planet,” added Andersen.
Chambo (Oreochromis squamipinnis)
© Ad Konings

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