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With over 70 Critically Endangered species in Southeast Asia, freshwater fishes are currently the largest group of ASAP species.

The fishes include some of the smallest in the world such as Parosphromenus ornaticauda, which is known only from peat swamp forests in Indonesian Borneo. They range in size up to the Mekong Giant Catfish Pangasianodon gigas, the largest freshwater fish in the world, which can grow up to 3 metres long.

Fishes are the most often neglected of the ASAP species. In general, they receive very little targeted conservation action. Aquatic species in general are overlooked globally amongst conservation actions, and many of these species need urgent attention.

In January 2019, ASAP co-organised a Red List and conservation needs workshop for freshwater fishes in the Sunda sub-region. The Sunda region is a biogeographical region of Southeastern Asia. It includes Peninsular Malaysia, the islands of Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi and their surrounding small islands. The report from this workshop is now available.

Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) ©Wildlife Reserves Singapore

This workshop was unique because it was a pilot trial of the Assess to Plan (A2P) process, facilitated by the IUCN SSC Conservation Planning Specialist Group (CPSG). A2P seeks to be a link between Red List Assessments and action planning. It brings information on threats and on conservation actions into the Red List workshop. In line with this, the trial sought not only to assess the conservation status of Sunda fishes, but also to use the occasion to identify actions towards conservation for all species identified as globally threatened, at a multi-species level.

The workshop aimed to review 400 draft assessments. To review so many assessments, the species were grouped by taxonomy and by geographic range. Participating experts were encouraged to rotate between working groups to make sure they contributed for the species within their areas of expertise.

During the workshop:

  • Red List assessments were successfully reviewed for all 400 species
  • 122 species were categorised as globally threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable)
  • Of these 122, 11 species are endemic to (that is, occur naturally only in) Sulawesi, 30 to Sumatra, 45 to Borneo and 18 to Peninsular Malaysia.

The threats to these fishes are varied, but are dominated by impacts from peat swamp conversion, invasive species, and overharvesting for ornamental fish trade. By geographically grouping species, threat assessments were also able to be more targeted.

Parosphromenus ornaticauda ©Wentian shi

In Borneo alone, 34 threatened species are endemic to, or found in, peat swamp forests or black water habitats including the Critically Endangered Parosphromenus ornaticauda. Industrial-scale forestry, predominantly oil palm plantations, has led to a dramatic loss of peat swamp forest habitat. Devastating peatland fires have become an annual occurrence in Kalimantan.

In another example, two threatened species are known from Lake Lindu in Sulawesi, Xenopeocilus bonneorum and Xenopoecilus sarasinorum. Agriculture around the lake is expanding, along with livestock grazing and forestry. These are all reducing water quality. Compounding the issue, three species of fish were introduced to the lake in the 1950s and have since become the most common species of fish in the lake.

Some key recommendations for conservation action include protecting and restoring peat swamp forest, identifying species in need of ex situ conservation measures, and genome banking for threatened taxa. ASAP, together with Shoal and Wildlife Reserves Singapore, will build on this, and are, together, identifying priority actions for all ASAP fishes.

Read the workshop report on the CPSG website



Featured image: Parosphromenus alfredi ©Ji Yuhan

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