Overfishing is Emptying World's Rivers, Lakes, Experts Warn

December 1, 2005

Ocean species such as cod, dolphins, and sea turtles have been grabbing headlines as victims of unsustainable fishing.

But policymakers and the media are neglecting freshwater rivers and lakes that are also being emptied of fish, a new report warns.

Scientists say exploitation of fish stocks is threatening biodiversity in fresh waters globally while also putting jobs and food supplies in developing nations at risk.

"Overfishing of inland waters is a neglected crisis," said the report's co-author Kirk Winemiller, a fish researcher at the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in College Station.

"Most of the focus is on oceans, with inland waters rarely mentioned," he added. "Yet fish from inland waters are more threatened than those in oceans."

Rivers and lakes highlighted in the report, published today in the journal BioScience, include the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.

The river is home to the Mekong giant catfish—believed to be the world's largest freshwater fish—and various other huge but increasingly threatened species.

Other critically endangered fish cited in the study include the Murray cod of the Murray River Basin in Australia and the lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes of North America.

Fourfold Increase

The report reveals that humans are fishing their way through different-size fish, starting with the largest, then targeting progressively smaller species until there's nothing left to catch.

"Tens of millions of people in developing countries fish inland waters for food and to earn a living," Winemiller said. "Typically fishing pressure shifts from species to species as preferred types or those more easily captured decline in number."

The report stresses the need for government agencies and fisheries experts to work with local people to manage "critically harvested" waters.

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