Red list of fish – fish and lampreys in the new list

Czerwona lista

Even toddlers in the first grades of elementary school are taught about endangered species, natural monuments, area protection, and finally red lists and books. Unfortunately, most people do not distinguish between red lists (i.e., lists of species already extirpated, near threatened or in danger of extinction, but not necessarily covered by various forms of species protection or year-round moratoriums on harvesting/hunting) and lists of legally protected species. There are even worse times. Experienced scholars and activists who prepared the first versions of these documents in Poland a few decades ago are no longer following the new IUCN rules [1], causing younger colleagues to deny their proposals the title of red lists. This is perfectly illustrated by the controversy surrounding the latest Red List of vertebrates of Poland. It was published last year by Prof. Z. Glowacinski in the 78th issue of the journal “Chrońmy Przyrodę Ojczystą” [2].

Red list of fish – update needed

Fish and vertebrates are several clusters of aquatic vertebrates that are usually familiar to the public. It might seem that assessing the degree of threat to this group would be relatively easy to do, thanks to data from anglers, fishermen and ichthyologists. There is no shortage of reasons to update it, at the scale of the Oder and Vistula river basins, and then all of Poland:

  • New taxonomic resolutions for domestic species;
  • The risk of global extinction of Europe’s only catadromous fish (the European eel);
  • A bloom of “golden algae” in the Oder River in 2022;
  • Plans to cascade the Oder and Vistula rivers and to rehabilitate the Oder after an ecological disaster;
  • The dispute over the nativeness of the rosehip in Central and Western Europe [3];
  • The success of restoration of selected species (shortnose sturgeon, Atlantic salmon, steelhead);
  • Ministry of Agriculture Regulation 2021. On the protection of economically important migratory fish;
  • The development of existing (at the IFRZ of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn) and the establishment of new gene banks for the fish of Poland (at the IRŚ-PIB in Olsztyn).

Professionals, when drafting conservation documents (protection plans, conservation task plans) and fishing operations, are still condemned to Witkowski’s, Kotusz’s and Przybylski’s 2009 red list of fish. [4]. This study was in line with the IUCN standards of the time, and at the same time the Polish traditions of estimating the degree of extinction risk for these groups of anurans. The degree of threat to individual species, subspecies and morphs was assessed separately for the Oder River basin, the Vistula River basin, short rivers of the Baltic Coast, and finally for the whole country combined. The degree of threat to lampreys and fish within the Polish river basins of the Nemunas, Pregoła, Elbe, Danube and Dniester was also separately assessed [4].

Confusion over Poland’s new red list of vertebrates

In 2022. A new red list by Prof. Glowacinski was created for all vertebrates of Polish lands. It included 32 species of fish and four lampreys. To the census of receding and near-threatened animals, Professor. Glowacinski introduced 6 more species of fish: shortnose (Atlantic) sturgeon, allozoa, smelt, brook minnow, Danube goatfish and asp (rapeseed). He also devoted a separate paragraph to taxa that are extinct but recovered and emerging from danger. In the case of fish, these included sturgeons, noble (Atlantic) salmon and steelhead. The original resolution, unheard of among other faunalists, remains the hypothesis that there were two distinct species of native sturgeon in the Oder and Vistula: the western (Baltic), but also the shortnose (Atlantic) [1].

The list of vertebrates was sharply but substantively criticized by a team of Polish ornithologists who published the latest Red List of Birds. Glowacinski was accused of: 1) Outdated methodology that ignores current IUCN guidelines; 2) lack of approval of the Polish IUCN Committee; 3) no data on the basis for assessing the status of characterized animals; 4) Misapplication of the LC(least concern) category; 5) inappropriate use of other hazard categories, not in accordance with the applicable guidelines; 6) unreflective, automatic matching of threat categories on the scale of Poland to the scale of the world and/or the European Union; 7) unclear status of the study and 8) a number of individual species-specific errors (illustrated by the examples of the carinid or the harrier gopher) [5]. The professor defended himself in the same issue of the journal [6].

The Polish IUCN Committee also spoke out on the issue. He hailed the controversial publication by Prof. Glowacinski as “an important, but informal, private, expert voice on the need and shape of the new list. Not using the current categories and not referring to the criteria makes it impossible to treat it differently, while this approach allows the IUCN not to initiate any steps on violations of its rights” [1].

Great shortage of small species

What, in turn, was missing for me – a naturalist dealing with the flora and fauna of our waters? In my opinion, the value of the study is diminished by less detail than before, especially the lack of division of threat categories for the Oder, Vistula and Baltic Coast river basins and the absence of rare and declining species, only recently discovered in the country and/or elevated to the status of separate species, such as: Vladikavkaz lamprey, Black Sea trout, Baltic goatfish (sabaneyeva), Balkan goatfish (sabaneyeva), eastern hellbender, Carpathian barbel (Walecki), smallmouth bass, and longnose gudgeon, Belinga and Vladikavkaz. There is also a lack of small endemic species/morphs of whitefish, e.g.: the Leba and Miedvian, which have long been under active and passive protection.

It is these small, endemic species that determine the peculiarity of a particular fauna or flora. Their absence from the 2022 nationwide study. is all the more regrettable given that the Red List of Fishes of Europe, edited by Freyhof and Brooks (2011) [7], lists a whole series of poorly known endemics from the south of the EU, Crimea and beyond. Baltic and Balkan sabaneye appear in the Standard Data Form (SDF) and Conservation Task Plan (CPP) of some Odessa Natura 2000 sites, while in others they are included less accurately – as golden goats. Fortunately, some specimens of these goats survived after the “algae-killers” bloom, but very few remain [8].

Frequent or rare? Why do we need a red list of species?

Categories from the new Red List of vertebrates can be cited by both supporters and opponents of major investments in Polish rivers. The list shows the inconsistency between the probability of extinction of particular taxa and their species protection under laws and the Habitats Directive, as well as the protection periods and sizes introduced by the Polish Angling Association.

Partial species protection for some of the fish from Appendix II of the Habitats Directive seems unnecessary in Poland, given that ide, Kessler’s gudgeon, sculpin, and even rosella remain more common than anglers’ barbel, burbot or smelt, not to mention the even rarer, but still catchable mumps and whitefish. If it is allowed to fish for asps in our country, although they are protected by Annex V of the Habitats Directive, why not abolish species protection for a couple of equally common species, leaving only habitat protection, dimensions and/or protection periods?

On the other hand, the new Red List of Vertebrates shows how close to extinction migratory species that are important for tourism and wildlife have come: bi-mediterranean, potamodromous (making long-distance migrations in rivers, but not seas, from the Gr. potamos – river, dromos – wandering) and torrents. The Minister of Agriculture (in charge of fisheries management, including the protection of migratory fish) should therefore expand his regulation on the protection of economically important migratory species to include: Atlantic (noble) salmon, brook trout, lake trout, grayling and steelhead. This is because all of them have already become completely dependent on stocking several decades ago. They all remain threatened by poaching, water contamination and the baffling of watercourses. In fact, they have very similar habitat requirements.

Besides, at least according to Glowacinski, they are as (in)numerous as sea trout. The Polish Angling Association aggregates catch limits for these salmonid species for a reason. The eel, because of its unique biology (obligatory catadromous migration, i.e. to the sea for breeding), should have long been subject to at least partial, and preferably strict, protection. It is rarer than the rhododendron, and more difficult to propagate under controlled conditions. The so-called artificial reproduction of eels involves rearing the captured larvae of this species, breeding only naturally in the Sargasso Sea. Rosacea, on the other hand, has been successfully propagated in aquariums since the 20th century.

From the Oder to the Dnieper

Glowacinski’s study also identifies several other species worthy of care during the restoration of the Oder River. Critically threatened with extinction in this river system, or rather, not yet restored in Germany or Poland, remain the allosa finta, parposz, ciosa, certa, and igneous (in the Szczecin Lagoon). The Odra population of the mud minnow has identical conservation status, but this species has been protected ex situ in Polish gene banks for years. The experience gained in the restoration of allozoans and parsops may be of great help in restoring populations of some migratory herring, devastated in Ukrainian waters during the ongoing war there.


In the article, I used, among other things. From the works:

[1] IUCN National Committee Poland. 2023. Discussion around the “Red List of Vertebrates of Poland” of 2022. https://iucn.org.pl/2023/02/dyskusja-wokol-czerwonej-listy-kregowcow-polski-z-roku-2022/

[2] Glowacinski Z. 2022a. Red list of vertebrates of Poland – updated version (period of the 1st and 2nd decades of the 21st century). Chrońmy Przyrodę Ojczysta 78 (2): 28-67.

[3] van Damme D., Bogutskaya N., Hoffmann R., Smith C. 2007. The introduction of the European bitterling (Rhodeus amarus) to western and central Europe. Fish and Fisheries. 8 (2): 79-106.

[4] Witkowski A., Kotusz J., Przybylski M. 2009. Degree of threat to the freshwater ichthyofauna of Poland: Red list of lampreys and fish – state 2009. The degree of threat to the freshwater ichthyofauna of Poland: Red list of fishes and lampreys – situation in 2009. Protect Homeland Nature. 65 (1): 33-52.

[5] Wolf T., Kepel A., Chodkiewicz T., Sikora A., Chylarecki P., Kuczynski L. 2022. Comment on the publication: Red list of vertebrates of Poland – updated version (period of the 1st and 2nd decades of the 21st century). Protect Homeland Nature. 78 (4): 72-76.

[6] Glowacinski Z. 2022b. Comments on IUCN PAC members’ commentary on the release of the new Red List of Vertebrates of Poland. Protect Homeland Nature. 78 (4): 76-79.

[7] Freyhof J. Brooks E. (eds.) 2011. European Red List of Freshwater Fishes. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

[8] IOŚ-PIB. (ed.) 2022. The report concluding the work of the team on the issue. Oder situation. IOŚ-PIB, NFOŚGW, Warsaw.

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