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Coherent assessments of Europe’s marine fishes show regional divergence and megafauna loss

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 12 June 2017


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.

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Figure 1: Factors that affect the conservation status of European fishes.
Figure 2: Geographical distribution of the relative exploitation rate for 115 European fish stocks.
Figure 3: Geographical distribution of the relative biomass for 115 European fish stocks.
Figure 4: Performance of the IUCN Red List in relation to stock status.


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P.G.F. and R.C. received funding from the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS) pooling initiative, funded by the Scottish Funding Council (grant reference HR09011) and contributing institutions. The European Red List of marine fishes was a project funded by the European Commission (Directorate General for the Environment under service contract number 070307/2011/607526/SER/B.3).

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Authors and Affiliations



P.G.F. drafted the text, conducted the RF analysis, and produced all the figures and Supplementary Tables 2, 3 and 4. P.G.F., K.E.C., G.M.R., A.N. and M.G.C. were responsible for determining content and discussion of analyses. A.N. coordinated the European Red List of marine fishes project and K.E.C. manages IUCN’s Marine Biodiversity Unit. Red List workshops and assessment reviews were organized and coordinated by K.E.C., N.K.D., J.M.L., R.A.P., G.M.R. and R.W. G.M.R. compiled the variables used in the RF analysis, and drafted components of the main text and methods. A.N. and M.G.C. drafted components of the main text and methods, and together with G.M.R. composed Supplementary Table 1. P.V., C.D.M., R.M.C., N.K.D., R.A.P., M.K., D.P., E.D.F., A.B.F., B.A.P., J.M.L., P.L. and F.U. edited drafts. All authors (except C.D.M. and P.V.) participated in Red List workshops and/or contributed to the IUCN assessments. P.V. and C.D.M. collated the Mediterranean stock assessment data.

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Correspondence to Paul G. Fernandes.

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Supplementary Figure 1 and supplementary Tables 1–4 (PDF 539 kb)

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Fernandes, P., Ralph, G., Nieto, A. et al. Coherent assessments of Europe’s marine fishes show regional divergence and megafauna loss. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0170 (2017).

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