The IUCN (Intenational Union for the Conservation of Nature) is an international organisation which campaigns to maintain the biodiversity of the world’s animal species. The IUCN is based in Switzerland and has over 1,000 full-time staff, around 1,200 member organisations, made up of both governmental and non-governmental bodies. Additionally around 11,000 experts and scientists work for the organisation on a voluntary basis. These experts provide the scientific advice and information for the IUCN to make their conclusions about the conservation status of species around the world. The IUCN also takes action by creating hundreds of conservation projects all over the world which are “all aimed at the sustainable management of biodiversity and natural resources” (IUCN wbsite) and also aim to have an influence on worldwide environmental policies, conventions and laws. The IUCN had an annual budget of approximately £75 million as of 2013.
The IUCN is interested in the conservation and sustainability of all animals and vegetation across the planet with all vegetation and animal species falling under the interest of the IUCN. The IUCN has a worldwide reach and is used by many organisations, groups and governments to organise which species are most at risk of becoming endangered or extinct.
Fish and marine species are extensively covered by the IUCN and this website (as well as many others) uses the ICUN guidelines to identify which fish species are in danger of becoming endangered through overfishing or habitat destruction. The Redlist of threatened species across the world which is produced by the IUCN is also a reference point for many conservation organisations.
The System Used
The ICUN uses a sliding scale to identify the sustainability and health of the numbers of a species. A wide range of factors is taken into account when coming to a conclusion over where to place a specific species on the scale – speed of decline, population distribution, the state and size of habitat and the sustainability of harvesting methods are all taken into account. There are seven categories on the scale, plus an additional two categories:
Extinct (EX) – used when there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual of a species has died.
Extinct in the Wild (EW) – used when the only remaining members of a species exist in captivity.
Critically Endangered (CR) – species at extremely high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.
Endangered (EN) – species at extremely high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.
Vulnerable (VU) – Species at a high risk of becoming endangered.
Near Threatened (NT) – Likely to become endangered in the near future.
Least Concern (LC) – Species at lowest risk. Species included in this category do not qualify higher up this scale, and may in fact be abundant and widespread.
Data Deficient (DD) – Not enough information to come to a conclusion about where to place the species on this scale.
Not Evaluated (NE) – The IUCN have not yet been able to evaluate this species.
British Sea Fish and the IUCN Scale
In terms of fish species there are unfortunately a significant number which are high on the IUCN scale. Both cod and haddock are classed as Vulnerable due the rate at which they have been removed from the sea by commercial fishing methods. Other species such as many types of ray are higher up the scale – thornback, small-eyed and blonde ray are all classed as are all classed as Near Threatended. This is due to the intensive trawling methods used around the world which are extremely destructive to bottom-dwelling ray species. The IUCN also lists shark species as being in real trouble – of the twelve species featured on this website only one (the humble lesser-spotted dogfish) is classed a species of Least Concern as all other species are classed as either Vulnerable, Near Threatened or in the case of the angel shark, Critically Endangered. Other sea species which are classed as Critically Endangered include the silver eel. This may come as a surprise to some anglers as they can appear to be abundant in some areas but these are actually isolated stocks, and numbers are thought to be at around 1-2% of historical levels, due to both the blocking of silver eels migratory routes up rivers with dams and other structures and the commercial hunting of this species. Like many ray species the common skate is also Critically Endangered, although here anglers must take some of the blame, as it used to be common for boat anglers to catch large skate, take them back to shore for photos and then simply throw them dead back into the sea. Today there are extensive conservation plans for skate, and they are only fished for on a catch and release basis.
It is not all bad news however. A ban on discarding fish (throwing dead fish back into the sea) is being phased in to Europe’s fisheries from 2015 onward, and more selective and less damaging fishing methods are being developed. As well as this the IUCN classes a number of fish which are popular amongst British anglers as species of Least Concern such as coalfish, wrasse species, flounder and plaice. Remember, anglers can always do their bit for conservation by only taking a sensible number of fish for the table and returning other fish – especially those species which are endangered.