Fish Net was created as a measure to save many freshwater fishes from extinction, using a dynamic programme of captive breeding, education and outreach, research and field conservation initiatives. The project currently focuses on killifish and livebearers, that are small freshwater fish with localised distributions and many of which are Extinct in the Wild or Critically Endangered.
Fish Net is working with zoos, aquaria, research facilities and NGO’s in Europe and target countries to implement conservation strategies that will provide the only option to save many fishes on the brink of extinction. Our target group is the killifish and livebearers that are small freshwater fish. They are notable for inhabiting harsh environments and are often considered important indicators for ecosystem health.
Most species in these groups have not been evaluated under IUCN, but of those that have, five species are Extinct, three Extinct in the Wild, and 12 Critically Endangered. These species are largely neglected by governments and their plight has only received the attention of a few specialised hobbyists and academics. Only a handful of public aquariums have engaged in actively managing these species and ZSL is already one of the most active institutions.
A Corfu Killifish ZSL established Fish Net on a small scale in 2005. A number of notable early achievements include the successful breeding of 15 species that are extinct or threatened in the wild; the development of conservation action plans for priority species; and long term maintenance of endangered species.
A Fish Net species assessment in Mexico was able to rediscover a species thought to be extinct in the wild. The initiative is also responsible for the first comprehensive assessment of the Corfu killifish, Valencia letourneuxi, in collaboration with Greek researchers, and for the rediscovery of the species in Corfu in 2009.
Breeding room at ZSL Aquarium Current work
Investigating the conservation status of all livebearers and killifish in the wild is a current priority, in order to develop and implement in-country conservation management plans with Fish Net partners. It will then be possible to engage stakeholder groups and governments to implement these plans, coupled with the maintenance of viable captive breeding groups of the most endangered species.
We are focusing on species within ZSL’s priority geographic areas, notably mainland Europe and the Middle East. We would also maintain collaborative involvement with the recovery of Mexican livebearers (with Chester Zoo) with expansion to include the Mexican pupfishes. The Fish Net facility would also be able to respond to crises when a ‘rescue task force’ is needed.
ZSL plans to develop a dedicated programme for freshwater fish conservation within ZSL, including the construction of a dedicated facility to maintain viable captive populations of the most endangered species. We are also implementing an education and outreach programme for these fishes within the UK, targeting our own zoos as well as schools and prisons.
Our conservation activities involve:
- Research: gathering baseline data on freshwater habitats and utilising captive populations to research life history characteristics, population dynamics and disease treatment.
- Rescuing:species that are Critically Endangered and require captive management to save them (385 species) as well as unevaluated species for whom the evidence suggests global extinction.
- Captive breeding: species that are Extinct in the Wild and for which zoos/aquariums are their last hope. Luckily Killifish and livebearers are small enough that manageable colonies can be kept. Establishing protocols of how to bred and manage these populations is integral to this.
- In-country conservation: identifying existing locations where species can be kept safe and managing populations with semi-in-situ programmes.
- Education and Outreach: Bringing aquariums with endangered fish into schools (successfully piloted in London) and through field trips and interpretive signage at designated locations where the fish live.
- Field Conservation: restoring habitats where possible, working with governments, universities and local NGOs to establish and maintain refuges for threatened species and mitigate negative anthropogenic activities.
Watch this video to see what Fish Net is doing to save the La Palma Pupfish