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Keywords:

  • Alien fish;
  • aquaculture;
  • biodiversity;
  • ecological impact;
  • economic value

Abstract

Risk perceptions are important to the policy process, but there is often a well-established pattern of small risks being over assessed. This is also true with the issue of non-native freshwater fish introductions, where a great majority of research focuses on the few negative cases. The attitude towards ‘non-natives’ is a continually evolving process and varies according to current societal values. Here I show that on the global scale, the majority of freshwater fish introductions are not identified as having an ecological impact while having great societal benefits. Case studies from the African lakes are discussed in order to illustrate contrasting outcomes following fish introductions. Looking into the future, the environmental changes that freshwater ecosystems may encounter will have inevitable implications on the distribution of our native freshwater fish species and the need to rely on non-native introductions may become a growing reality. Aquaculture production is regularly increasing and our dependence on it is likely to become greater as it provides an important substitute for the declining production of capture fisheries. With it the number of freshwater fish introductions will increase and a more realistic attitude, albeit controversial, will need to be debated. This would mean protecting some introductions that present beneficial outcomes for biodiversity alongside a more systematic ban of species or families of fish presenting a higher historical ecological risk. The public perception of risk is something which cannot be ignored by any government or ruling body, but in order to gain public support in the fight for conservation of freshwater fish biodiversity, the message needs to be clear, detailed and educational.