Can We Allow 50,000 Wild Species To Become At Risk?

Why are wild species important? Many of us will never in our lifetimes gather wild plants, or burn wood for fuel, or fish for a daily meal. We’d rarely forage for wild mushrooms , and most of us wouldn’t hunt for food, choosing, instead, to buy any animal-based proteins at a grocery.

So why should we support regulation of the sustainable use of wild species such as plants, animals, fungi, and algae around the world?

50,000 wild species are at risk, that’s why.

The accelerating global biodiversity crisis, with a million species of plants and animals facing extinction, threatens innumerable contributions to people.

The hidden truth from many westerners is that billions of people benefit daily from the use of wild species for food, energy, materials, medicine, recreation, inspiration, and many other vital aspects of human well-being. One in 5 people rely on uncultivated strains for income and food. Nearly 10,000 wild species are harvested for human food. 2.4 billion (1 in 3) people depend on fuel wood for cooking.

A new report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) identifies 5 broad categories of practices in the use of wild species:

  • fishing;
  • gathering;
  • logging;
  • terrestrial animal harvesting (including hunting); and,
  • non-extractive practices.

The Report identifies drivers such as:

  • land and seascape changes;
  • climate change;
  • pollution; and,
  • invasive alien species.

All of these factors can impact the abundance and distribution of wild species and can increase stress and challenges among the human communities that use them. Without effective regulation across supply chains – from local to global – global trade generally increases pressures on such living varieties, leading to unsustainable use and sometimes to wild population collapses — think the shark fin trade.

For each practice, the Report examines specific uses such as for food and feed; materials; medicine, energy; recreation; ceremony; and learning and decoration. It provides a detailed analysis of the trends in each over the past 20 years. In most cases, their use has increased, but sustainability of use has varied, such as in gathering for medicine and logging for materials and energy.

Overexploitation is one of the main threats to the survival of many land-based and aquatic species in the wild. Addressing the causes of unsustainable use and, wherever possible reversing these trends, will result in better outcomes for nature and the people who depend on them.

Global Trade Creates Opportunities & Risk

Global trade in wild species has expanded substantially in volume, value, and trade networks over the past 4 decades.

The use of biodiverse plants and animals is an important source of income for millions of people worldwide. Wild trees account for two thirds of global industrial roundwood. Trade in wild plants, algae, and fungi is a billion-dollar industry. Even non-extractive uses of natives are big business.

Then again, while trade in unmanaged wilderness provides important income for exporting countries, offers higher incomes for harvesters, and can diversify sources of supply to allow pressure to be redirected from species being unsustainably used, it also decouples the consumption of wild species from their places of origin.

Indigenous peoples manage fishing, gathering, terrestrial animal harvesting, and other uses of wild species on more than 38 million km2 of land, equivalent to about 40% of terrestrial conserved areas, in 87 countries. The Report finds that policies supporting secure tenure rights and equitable access to land, fisheries, and forests, as well as poverty alleviation, create enabling conditions for sustainable use of wild species in areas around the world.

By the Numbers: Key Statistics & Facts from the Report

  • +/- 50,000: Wild species used for food, energy, medicine, material, and other purposes through fishing, gathering, logging, and terrestrial animal harvesting globally.
  • At least 34%: Species that are sustainably used – based on assessment of 10,098 species from 10 taxonomic groups on the IUCN Red List.
  • +/-7,500: Species of wild fish and aquatic invertebrates directly used by people all over the world; 31,100 species of wild plants, of which 7,400 are trees; 1,500 species of fungi; 7,400 species of wild trees; 1,700 species of wild land-based invertebrates; and 7,500 species of wild amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
  • >10,000: Wild species harvested for human food, making sustainable use of wild species critical for food security and improving nutrition in rural and urban areas worldwide.
    +/-70%: of the world’s poor directly dependent on wild species and on businesses fostered by them.
  • 8 billion: Annual visitors to protected areas worldwide prior to COVID-19 pandemic, generated $600 billion per year, with the highest levels of tourist visitors in species-rich countries.
  • 38 million: Km² of land across 87 countries on which indigenous peoples manage fishing, gathering, terrestrial animal harvesting, and other uses of wild species (coincides with +/-40% of terrestrial conserved areas, including many with high biodiversity value).
  • 15: Number of the Sustainable Development Goals to which sustainable use of wild species has unacknowledged potential to contribute to achievement of the targets.
  • >90%: Of the 120 million people engaged in capture fisheries globally that are supported by small-scale fishing, about half of them are women.
  • 34%: Marine wild fish stocks that are overfished (with 66% fished within biologically sustainable levels, but this global picture displays strong heterogeneities).
  • 90 million: Tons of wild fish caught annually in recent decades, of which about two thirds go to human food (and the rest as feed for aquaculture and livestock).
  • 99%: Species of sharks and rays officially declared taken incidentally as by-catch, but valuable and often retained for food, causing steep declines since the 1970s in shark species, especially in tropical and subtropical coastal shelf waters.
  • 449: Species of sharks and rays classified as threatened (37.5% of 1,199 species recently assessed), mostly due to unsustainable fishing.

    Policies & Tools to Promote Sustainable Use

As part of its analysis, the Report explores policies and tools that have been used in a variety of contexts. 7 key elements are presented that could be used as levers of change to promote sustainable use of wild species if they are scaled-up across practices, regions, and sectors:

  • Policy options that are inclusive and participatory;
  • Policy options that recognize and support multiple forms of knowledge;
  • Policy instruments & tools that ensure fair & equitable distribution of costs & benefits;
  • Context-specific policies;
  • Monitoring of practices;
  • Policy instruments that are aligned at international, national, regional, and local levels; maintain coherence and consistency with international obligations, and take into account customary rules and norms; and,
  • Robust institutions, including customary institutions.

Background of the Report

The IPBES Assessment Report on the Sustainable Use of Wild Species is the result of 4 years of work by 85 leading experts from the natural and social sciences and holders of indigenous and local knowledge, as well as 200 contributing authors, drawing on more than 6,200 sources. The summary of the Report was approved this week by representatives of the 139 member States of IPBES in Bonn, Germany.

The report offers insights, analysis, and tools to establish more sustainable uses so biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are maintained while contributing to human well-being.



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