Species of conservation importance
Several species of fish have declined in European waters,
possibly due to overfishing, habitat destruction or other human
activities. In recent years, many fish species have been "listed"
within nature conservation legislation. Although there are
many lists of threatened species, such as the IUCN Red List and
OSPAR, these do not confer legal protection.
A vital part of species conservation is a solid understanding
the species' biology and its response to environmental
pressures. Despite the importance of native species conservation,
the resources available are often limited, which emphasises the
importance of national and international collaborations, with local
stakeholders playing a particularly important role.
Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus)
This species is Britain's largest fish and can grown to about 10
meters in length. It is a filter-feeding shark, eating various
planktonic crustaceans, and is often seen at the surface in frontal
systems. They are often seen in the western English Channel, around
the Isle of Man and in Scottish waters.
The basking shark has been listed on the UK Wildlife
and Countryside Act since 1998 and in recent years has been listed
as a prohibited species on the EC TACs and Quotas regulations,
which states that it is "prohibited for Community vessels
to fish for, to retain on board, to tranship and to land"
Angel sharks were once widely distributed in the North Sea (e.g.
on the Dogger bank), English Channel and Cardigan Bay, although
there are few recent captures. Like most sharks it is highly to
vulnerable to over-exploitation, and its large size makes them
susceptible to capture in net fisheries from birth. Angel sharks
can also be quite site specific, so restricting the re-colonization
of former habitats. Since 2008, the angel shark
Squatina squatina (below) has been listed on the UK
Wildlife and Countryside Act, which protects the species in
the 0-6 nm limits in the waters of England and Wales.
Since 2009, the EC TACs and Quotas regulations have stated that
"Angel shark in all EC waters may not be retained on
board" and catches "shall be promptly released
unharmed to the extent practicable".
The two species of seahorse (Hippocampus spp., right)
that occur in UK seas were added to the UK Wildlife and Countryside
Act in 2008. These small-bodied species are captured occasionally
in the English Channel and southern North Sea.
Giant goby Gobius cobitis and Couch's goby Gobius
couchii has been listed on the UK Wildlife and
Countryside Act since 1998. These two species have restricted
distributions in the British Isles, and are most often reported
from rocky shores. Hence, offshore fisheries will not really impact
on these species.
Within UK waters, several species of marine and diadromous fish are also listed under
Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, including sturgeon
Acipenser sturio (PDF, 1.67 MB) has been listed since
1992. This species has declined dramatically in northern Europe,
and there is now only one river in northern Europe in which they
breed (the Gironde in France). This conspicuous species, which can
grow to 3.5 m long, is occasionally caught in coastal waters. They
are also listed on Appendix I of CITES. Given the high risk of
extinction, there is an ongoing awareness-raising campaign to
highlight their plight
(International action plan for the restoration of European
Allis shad Alosa alosa is protected against "Killing,
injuring & taking" whilst the related twaite shad Alosa
fallaxis protected against the damage/destruction of
places of shelter/protection only. Both species may be caught as a
bycatch in UK fisheries, especially in coastal gillnet fisheries.
Shads have a typical-herring like body, although they are easily
distinguished by having a pronounced notch in the midline of the
upper lip. They can reach more than 50 cm in length. Allis shad
have 80-130 gillrakers on the first gill arch, whereas twaite shad
have 40-60. Twaite shad also often have a series of 6-8 dark spots
running along the side of the fish at the level of the eye.
Vendace Coregonus albula and whitefish Coregonus
lavaretus are also listed on the Act, and although they occur
in brackish waters elsewhere in their range, they occur in
freshwater lakes in the UK.
With increasing pressures on inland waters, such as pollution,
groundwater extraction, non-native species introductions and
changes in land use, a number of native species have gone extinct
or are threatened. For example, the burbot was last reported in
East Anglia during the 1960s, and numbers of the Eurasian otter was
much reduced throughout much of England during the period 1960-2000
followed by a recent, gradual return of the species to its previous
In response, some threatened species of freshwater fish have
received either local, national or international conservation
status. These include European bullhead (which appears threatened
outside of the UK), crucian carp, European eel, spined loach, lampreys and salmonids. Of these,
the most recent change in status concerns crucian carp
(Carassisus carassius), which has been designated a Biodiversity Action
Priority (BAP) species for the county of Norfolk (East of