Archive for November, 2007

INCOFISH scientists present Shifting Baselines Toolset

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

INCOFISH Press release November 12, 2007

How much fish have we got? Shifting Baselines in fisheries management hinder a clear scientific view of the resource.

What were fish stocks distributions like when they were once pristine? To find out scientists need to turn back time or look into the past. To be able to judge the resilience of current fish stocks there is a need to be familiar with the history of the resource. One problem of fisheries management is the lack of historical monitoring of stocks distributions. Where can such data be found? A new toolset is released online at

The Shifting Baselines Toolset is presented to the public and press on Wednesday 14 to Friday16 this November 2007.
When: Public symposium 1pm to 5:15pm, Wednesday 14th November
Where: Owen Glenn Building, Wynyard Street, University of Auckland city campus.
The meeting will be launched with a public symposium on Wednesday 14 November. Scientists will be available for interviews on the 14th and on other days by arrangement.
For more information and images, see:
Presentation website

With evidence in hand we can see that a multiple of human impact factors interfere with fish stocks distribution patterns. The vivid case study examples from a research group called Shifting Baselines form a package or a toolset that illustrate the problems. With flash animations for a good comprehension of each problem their “Back flash files” are made available online:
Baselines Toolset

Examples of their research highlights are listed below:
eru: Spatial Distribution: Peruvian Hake since 1970 (IMARPE)

  • Colombia: Abundance: “Then and Now”: decline in demersal fish biomass in the Colombian Caribbean Sea (UNAL)
  • UK: Size of Individuals: Size Matters! The rapid decline of whiting in the North Sea, (UNIABDN)
  • Denmark: Species Diversity: Highlighting 400 years of shifting species distribution, (RUC)

Data collected by the Shifting Baselines group has highlighted temporal change in the spatial distribution, abundance, diversity and individual size of selected species in particular ecosystems.

For a deeper look into the background data or further exploration, the datasets behind the case studies are made available to the public online:
Baselines dataset

The “Shifting Baselines” workpackage addresses the ’shifting baseline syndrome’. In essence, this problem has emerged as each generation of fisheries and environmental scientists has accepted existing stock size and species composition as the baseline against which temporal changes are measured.
However, if stocks are progressively depleted, a shift in the baseline occurs over time.
This results in an accommodation of the creeping disappearance of resource species, and the application of inappropriate reference points for the evaluation of economic losses due to over fishing, and the identification of targets for rehabilitation policies.
To resolve this problem, criteria for selecting key aquatic resources (stocks) within particular large marine ecosystems have been developed:

  • Examine the patterns of long term change in selected coastal ecosystems and thereby establish targets for the restoration and sustainable use of living marine resources.
  • Identification, validation and assembly of historical data (e.g. biomass, mean size, maturity, fecundity) relating to key aquatic resources in selected large marine ecosystems (LMEs).
  • Collation, analysis and dissemination of the historical data collected and processed.
  • Establish baselines against which the current status of aquatic resources and LMEs can be evaluated and restoration goals can be set.

Historical data on catch and effort, biomasses, length-frequencies, maximum sizes, size and age at maturity, growth rates, natural mortality, etc. are assessed, collated and analyzed to establish baselines against which the current status and restoration goals of key aquatic resources are assessed.

Likewise, historical data on catch and effort, production, biomasses, predator-prey interactions, flows, and habitat change are mined, assessed, collated and analyzed to establish baselines against which the current status and restoration goals of selected marine ecosystems can be assessed.

The development of this work has now come to its peak by developing the searchable datasets online and the Back flash files that explains and verifies that shifts in baselines have taken place and the causes behind them.

Shifting Baselines research group is the Workpackage 2 of the large scale research project INCOFISH. It is an EU funded project with scientific participants from 35 institutions and private enterprises from 22 nations worldwide.

The objectives of INCOFISH are to conduct specifically targeted strategic research suitable to contribute to the goals set by the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, such as restoring healthy fish stocks and ecosystems by 2015. The portal to information from INCOFISH is found at

Web portal:

Dr David J Starkey
Director MHSC
D.J.Starkey (at)
Maritime Historical Studies Center, MHSC
University of Hull, UK
+44 7932 782135

Charlotta Jarnmark
INCOFISH Workpackage 1 Leader, Data, Tools and Outreach
cjarnmark (at)
+46-8-6458483 (home)
+46-737857424 (CP Sweden)

Sink or swim: over one in three freshwater fish species in Europe threatened with extinction

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

The first ever assessment of European freshwater fishes indicates astonishing species diversity but also the devastating impact of over 100 years of development and management of freshwater systems and fishes.

Gland, Switzerland, 1 November, 2007 (IUCN) - The diversity of life in European freshwater ecosystems is rapidly declining, according to a new scientific study.

The research is published in the new book Handbook of European Freshwater Fishes, in collaboration with the World Conservation Union (IUCN). It shows that 200 of the 522 (38%) European freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction and 12 are already extinct, using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Speciesâ„¢ categories and criteria. This is a much higher level of threat than is facing either Europe’s birds or mammals.

William Darwall, Senior Programme Officer, IUCN Species Programme, said: “With 200 fish species in Europe facing a high risk of going extinct we must act now to avoid a tragedy. Many of these species, not considered as “charismatic” or with any apparent “value” to people, rarely attract the funds needed for their conservation - they risk disappearing with only a dedicated few noticing the loss. These species are an important part of our heritage and are critical to the freshwater ecosystems upon which we do depend, such as for water purification and flood control. Many of these species can be saved through relatively simple measures. All we need is the public and political will to make it happen.”

The main threats behind the high level of extinction risk stem from the development and population growth in Europe over the past 100 years. The most serious single threat is water abstraction, particularly in the dry Mediterranean areas, which has led to some rivers drying up in the summer months which is becoming more acute with the impacts of climatic changes. Large dams built for irrigation, flood control and power generation have had major impacts upon species in large rivers, and have led to local extinction of numerous migratory species. Inappropriate fisheries management has led to overfishing and the introduction of alien species (and their diseases). Areas subject to the highest levels of threat include the lower reaches of the rivers Danube, Dniestr, Dniepr, Volga and Ural, the Balkan Peninsula, and southwestern Spain.

The Handbook of European Freshwater Fishes was written by Maurice Kottelat (Cornol) and Jörg Freyhof (IGB, Berlin). The threat assessment was conducted in collaboration with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Species Programme and Species Survival Commission Freshwater Fish Specialist Group, with financial support from the North of England Zoological Society (Chester Zoo). During the seven years of research for the preparation of the book, 47 new fish species were discovered. Some of the assessments are provisional and are to be reviewed before they are included in the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Gordon Reid, Director General of the North of England Zoological Society and Chair of the Freshwater Fish Specialist Group, said: “This comprehensive work allows us to see for the first time the true diversity of Europe’s freshwater fishes. At 546 species (including 522 freshwater and 24 marine species that are found in freshwater), the diversity is about twice the number that is often recognised by popular and scientific literature, this has led to many rare and threatened species being ignored.”

Maurice Kottelat, former president of the European Ichthyological Society and Jörg Freyhof, scientist from Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology said: “It is not too late and saving all species is still possible if Europe’s governments and EU would start to act now. Lack of concern is the greatest threat to our European fish fauna. Fish conservation should be managed in the same way as conservation of birds and mammals, by agencies in charge of conservation, and not as a crop by agencies in charge of agriculture. All species are part of the human heritage, just as, for example, Acropolis; the difference is that if Acropolis were destroyed one could still re-build a duplicate, but an extinct species cannot be duplicated.

The Handbook of European Freshwater Fishes has information on the habitat, biology and ecology, distribution, methods of identification and conservation status of all 546 European native species (including 522 freshwater and 24 marine species that are found in freshwater) and 33 introduced freshwater fish species. It also contains a key to genera and species, colour photographs of nearly every species and an assessment of their conservation status and distribution.

Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Head of IUCN’s Species Programme, said: “This new study shows that we are far from achieving European governments’ targets to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. The status of fish populations reflects the condition of European lakes and rivers. This handbook highlights that freshwater ecosystems are probably the most threatened. This is worrying as water increasingly becomes a scarce resource around the world. Protecting and conserving biodiversity is vital, as people’s health and livelihoods rely on these systems for basic necessities such as food and clean water.”

Human population in Europe has almost doubled since 1900, and agriculture and industry have developed massively. According to the UN Environment Programme this has led to the destruction of nearly 60% of Europe’s wetlands, leaving freshwater species declining at a great rate. Freshwater ecosystems are incredibly valuable and provide Europe with many essential products and services including fish for food, clean water, flood control, tourism and leisure activities. Their sustainable management and the conservation of freshwater species depend upon accessible, reliable and comprehensive information. Even smaller scale conservation activities at a local level can make a significant impact on species, helping to tackle the serious issue of biodiversity loss in Europe’s freshwater fish.

Handbook of European Freshwater Fishes:

Maurice Kottelat & Jörg Freyhof. 2007. Published by the authors. ISBN 978-2-8399-0298-4, 2007, xiv+646 pp., 17.5 x 26 cm 87.00 Euro. Available from

About The World Conservation (IUCN)

Created in 1948, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) brings together 84 States, 108 government agencies, 800 plus NGOs, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 147 countries in a unique worldwide partnership. The Union’s mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable.

The Union is the world’s largest environmental knowledge network and has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. The Union is a multicultural, multilingual organization with 1,000 staff located in 62 countries. Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland.

About the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and Species Programme

The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of 7,000 experts. SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and scientific aspects of species conservation and is dedicated to securing a future for biodiversity. SSC has significant input into the international agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation. Web: