IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group

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What does the FFSG do?

Members and colleagues at the FFSG meeting 2010 in Chester (UK).

Members and colleagues at the FFSG meeting 2010 in Chester, UK.

Global network

The FFSG was established in 2004 when IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC) and Wetlands International (WI) identified the need for a global network of experts on freshwater fishes. This network of expert volunteers act as the ’eyes and ears’ of IUCN, SSC and WI in providing authoritative and up-to-date information on the global conservation status and distribution of freshwater fishes.

Find out how you can become part of the FFSG network here

Prepare strategies, policies and conservation plans

Freshwater fish under threat need active intervention if they are to survive and thrive.  It is sometimes easy to take small steps that may assist species or individual populations to survive.  It is usually difficult to take the large steps that will ensure their survival, especially if such steps require changing human attitudes and practices that impact negatively on freshwater ecosystems. It is essential to prepare conservation strategies, policies and plans to ensure these steps are taken, whether the steps are small or large, easy or difficult, in order to actually achieve the objective of long-term species survival.  When developing strategy it is important to include the people and organizations that have to, or want to be involved in carrying out the plan.  Good communication is essential with these parties and others who are interested or may be affected by the actions. Issues such as livelihoods, waterborne diseases and water security must always be taken into consideration in planning and implementation.

Monitoring and evaluation

One very important task of the FFSG is to monitor the status of freshwater fishes and to evaluate all information gathered about them. Monitoring and evaluation is greatly needed in order to recognise and characterise significant changes in freshwater fish populations. From this scientific advice is provided to conservation organisations, government agencies and other IUCN members. This advice can, for example, be used to support the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements or to enable research funding applications. 

Threat assessment

The FFSG is anxious to assess all threats to freshwater fish. Freshwater fishes are threatened directly and indirectly by changes occurring in their environment.  A species (or the biodiversity within a system) often declines in response to more than one type of threat. The major threat is often the combined or synergistic impact of changes brought about by human activities.  Identifying threats to fish species or communities means having to know and understand the ecosystem they inhabit.  Assessing the threats and their likely impacts or outcomes, should they not be reduced or removed, also requires knowledge of the status and dynamics of other freshwater life, including fish, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

IUCN Red Listing

IUCN Red List

The FFSG works as the Red List Authority for the IUCN SSC. The IUCN Red List provides a framework within which to classify species according to their level of risk of extinction. The available online database ( contains the global status and supporting data on approximately 70,000 animal taxa (2013). Its primary goal is to identify and document the species most in need of conservation attention and provide an index of the state of degeneration of biodiversity.

A priority of the FFSG is to assess the status of all freshwater fishes (>15,000 species) according to the categories and criteria used by the IUCN Red List. Currently more than 5,000 species have been assessed and are listed under IUCN Red List categories, with at least 91 documented extinctions for freshwater fishes. The FFSG have selected some 650 species to serve as indicators of the general status of freshwater fish populations and species on the Sampled Red List Index.