Nov 17

What’s so important about freshwater fish? For a lot of people, thinking about this particular group probably evokes visions of what ichthyologists themselves refer to as ‘little brown jobs’. But anybody who has seen an episode of River Monsters will know that the diversity of these animals goes far beyond this. There are over 15,000 known freshwater fish species, with scientists describing new species in their hundreds every year. 

Giant catfish

The Critically Endangered Mekong giant catfish is a real River Monster, reaching lengths of up to 3 metres.

ARKive recently attended the 4th International Zoo and Aquarium Symposium, held in conjunction with the Freshwater Fish Specialist Group Annual Meeting. Experts from around the globe gathered in Chester in the UK, to discuss the problems of conserving these species and protecting their delicate habitats. 

People heavily utilise resources from freshwater ecosystems; millions depend on them for food and water, and there is an ever growing need to exploit these systems for energy. However, they are also cradles of biodiversity, with fish making up a massive part of this. The incredible pressure placed upon freshwater systems is now taking its toll on freshwater fish populations, and given our dependence on them, this could potentially backfire. 

Bedotia sp.

A beautiful Bedotia species from Madagascar

Recognising that both field work and captive programmes have huge roles to play in protecting these species, Professor Gordon McGregor Reid, Chair of the Freshwater Fish Specialist Group pointed out: “Each year, more than 700 million people visit zoos and aquariums worldwide – a bigger attendance than all football games! Because of this, zoos and aquariums give $350 million annually directly to field projects. What we need to know is how to take the most effective actions, in the most important areas.” 

From the challenges of protecting migratory fishes – which do not recognise international borders – to the issues faced in maintaining healthy populations in aquaria, we heard about cutting edge projects from the very people working to save some of the most threatened species. 

By working more closely with the conservation biologists, research scientists, and specialists present at the symposium, we’re hoping to really increase our freshwater fish coverage on ARKive. Many of those present at the symposium were keen to start contributing images, and I even encountered several who had already done so! 


Dr. Jörg Freyhof spoke at the symposium and also contributed this image of the Critically Endangered unga to ARKive.

To find out more about the symposium, see the IUCN’s press release

Rob Morgan, ARKive Media Researcher