Europe has a long tradition of exploiting marine fishes and is promoting marine economic activity through its Blue Growth strategy. This increase in anthropogenic pressure, along with climate change, threatens the biodiversity of fishes and food security. Here, we examine the conservation status of 1,020 species of European marine fishes and identify factors that contribute to their extinction risk. Large fish species (greater than 1.5 m total length) are most at risk; half of these are threatened with extinction, predominantly sharks, rays and sturgeons. This analysis was based on the latest International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) European regional Red List of marine fishes, which was coherent with assessments of the status of fish stocks carried out independently by fisheries management agencies: no species classified by IUCN as threatened were considered sustainable by these agencies. A remarkable geographic divergence in stock status was also evident: in northern Europe, most stocks were not overfished, whereas in the Mediterranean Sea, almost all stocks were overfished. As Europe proceeds with its sustainable Blue Growth agenda, two main issues stand out as needing priority actions in relation to its marine fishes: the conservation of marine fish megafauna and the sustainability of Mediterranean fish stocks.
Marine fishes exhibit high biodiversity 1,2 and have been culturally and nutritionally important throughout human history 3 . Europe, in particular, has a well-documented history of exploiting marine fish populations, written records of which commence in the classical works of ancient Greece. Although this historical exploitation has undoubtedly altered populations 4,5 and changed many seascapes 6 , marine defaunation in the region has not been as great as in terrestrial systems 7 . However, the use of ocean space and resources is increasing due to Europe’s Blue Growth strategy 8 , the nutritional requirements of an expanding human population are growing 9,10 and marine ecosystems will experience unusually rapid changes in future due to climate change 11,12 . Consequently there are imminent threats both to European marine biodiversity and fish resources 13 . It is important, therefore, to assess the threats of extinction to fish species and to ensure consistency in the management approach by the various agencies involved.
We analysed data on the conservation status of 1,020 species of Europe’s marine fishes from the recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessments 14 to identify characteristics that make Europe’s fishes most susceptible to extinction risk. We then compared the Red List with 115 fish stock assessments (of 31 species) made by intergovernmental agencies charged with providing advice on the exploitation of commercial fishes. Previous comparisons of this sort applied criteria under various modelling assumptions 15,16, 17 or limited the comparison to biomass reference points 18 .
- marine fishes
- anthropogenic pressure
- climate change
- extinction risk
- geographic divergence