Edge of extinction: Is it goodbye for prehistoric fish in Romania?

Isabel Lamb discusses the fate of Romania's prehistoric fish facing extinction

Isabel Lamb
24th November 2020

Up until the 1960s, the Asprete fish could be found in three interconnecting Romanian rivers - the Valsan, the Arges and the Raul Doamnei – where it could swim unimpaired for many kilometres in the cold, fast flowing waters. Today, their habitat has been drastically reduced and Asprete can now only be found in a 1 kilometre stretch of the Valsan.

In the early 2000s there were nearly 200 Asprete to be found in the Valsan, but today only 10 to 15 individuals are estimated to remain. This miniscule number represents the total and only population of this prehistoric fish on Earth. This living fossil has swam unchanged for 65 million years but now, thanks to anthropogenic threats both past and present, has finally reached the tipping point of extinction.

In 2020, these aged fish face threats from deforestation, illegal waste disposal and the theft of river stones under which they hide and lay their eggs

In the late 1960s the communist regime built dams along the mountain rivers of Romania. This reduced the flow of water, consequently slashing habitats available to the Asprete. In 2020, these aged fish face further threats from deforestation, illegal waste disposal and the theft of river stones under which they hide during the day and lay their eggs during breeding season.

Credit: Nicole Geri on Unsplash
Credit: Janusz Maniak on Unsplash

So are the Asprete lost forever? Some wildlife conservationists are hopeful they can bring the Asprete back from the brink of extinction. By restoring the Valsan to its former glory, repairing habitats and introducing a captive breeding programme that will eventually repopulate the river, they hope to act as the lifeline the Asprete so desperately need.

This, however, would cost millions of euros and many would argue that it’s too little too late. That the Asprete are lost to us forever and efforts to revive them are fruitless, costly and with little chance of success.

Why should we bother spending so much money just to save a single species of fish?

Previous attempts to save marine wildlife, such as those to prevent the extinction of the vaquita (a small, shy porpoise found in the Gulf of Mexico of which 10 are believed to remain) have been extremely expensive, appear to have little effect and have been hampered by many a foe, such as the continued illegal fishing for vaquita. So really, why should we bother spending so much money just to save a single species of fish?

Credit: Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

Maybe the Asprete are worth saving as they act as living, breathing records of evolution from which we have much to learn about the state of our planet today. If a fish who has survived for millions of years is suddenly threatened by the health of the planet today surely this is cause for great concern. Or possibly attempts to save the Asprete are more a moral obligation. It is our fault that they teeter on the edge; our actions have had dire consequences and perhaps it’s time take responsibility.

Whatever side you are on, whether you think the Asprete are worth saving or should simply be left to fade into non-existence, you need to make that choice now. Or very soon there may be no need to make a choice at all.

Featured Image: 00Fast News on YouTube

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