Freshwater fish, including Atlantic Salmon, face extinction crisis: EU Nature Restoration Law urgently needed

Posted on 11 December 2023

​The IUCN has published its latest Red List of Threatened Species showing that 25% of the world’s freshwater fish species are at risk of extinction, including the Atlantic Salmon (Salmo Salar) which is now “Near Threatened”.
Released at COP28, the Red List - considered the world’s most authoritative assessment of the plants and animals on Earth - reveals that freshwater fish are suffering from pollution, dams which block their migration routes, and increasingly, climate change.

Water pollution impacts 57% of freshwater fish species at risk of extinction, dams and water extraction affect 45%, invasive species and disease harm 33%, overfishing threatens 25% and climate change threatens 17% through decreasing water levels, rising sea levels that cause seawater to move up rivers, and shifting seasons.

Claire Baffert, Senior Water Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office said: “In Europe, we are not doing enough to protect our fishes from extinction. Unless we act now to restore our rivers, lakes and wetlands, our fish populations - including the iconic Atlantic Salmon - will be consigned to history books. This is yet another wake-up call to our decision makers that large-scale nature restoration cannot wait any longer. To keep this extinction crisis at bay, EU institutions must adopt the long-awaited Nature Restoration Law which includes a target to restore 25,000 kilometres of free-flowing rivers - vital for salmon and other migratory fish.” 

According to the IUCN, Atlantic Salmon face multiple threats during their long-distance migration routes between the sea and their freshwater spawning and feeding grounds:
  • Climate change affects all stages of their life cycles, reduces prey and encourages invasive species
  • Dams and barriers across rivers block their access to spawning and feeding grounds
  • Water pollution and sedimentation from agriculture and logging
  • Breeding with escaped farmed salmon may weaken their ability to adapt to climate change
  • Increased mortality due to lice from salmon farms
The IUCN Red List 2023 is the first comprehensive assessment of the world’s freshwater fish
species. It reveals that 3,086 out of 14,898 assessed species (25%) are at risk of extinction.
Atlantic salmon moving upriver to spawn, Lligwy River, UK
© naturepl.com / Mike Potts / WWF