Country governments are the political bodies that deal with fisheries management, research and conservation at the national level. It is therefore important to know all the countries where a species occurs, and vice-versa. As mentioned above, the distributional range of many species is not well established. Country-specific checklists of fishes prepared by non-taxonomists often contain misidentifications and generally cannot be verified; on the other hand, complete checklists published by taxonomists and based on verifiable specimen collections do not exist for many countries.

Taxonomic revisions are the most reliable source of information

It has taken us quite some time to fully grasp the extent of these problems and learn how to deal with them. The main task here is to distinguish between reliable and less reliable sources of information. Taxonomic revisions of species, genera, or families usually include a list of all examined specimens with the localities where they have been collected. This is the most reliable type of information; however, the locality names may be taken from very old original vouchers and may not be easily related to current countries.

The distributional range given in such revisions as a descriptive text often contains country names and these we regard as a good source. We also accept countries that are not explicitly mentioned but clearly part of a range, e.g., "Along the west African coast from Mauritania to Angola" would be considered to include all the coastal countries between Mauritania and Angola. However, statements such as "From the Red Sea to southern Japan" would only allow us to select Japan, not e.g., Oman, Pakistan or India, because such wide ranges are often discontinuous. Another good reference for country records are faunal studies done by taxonomists such as Allen’s (1989) Freshwater Fishes of Australia or Randall et al.’s (1997) Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea, although the latter is not a complete listing. Maps published by experts in taxonomic books such as the FAO Species Catalogues or Skelton’s (1993) A Complete Guide to the Freshwater Fishes of Southern Africa are also regarded as good sources.

Musuem collections often use old names

Computerized museum collections, although a good source in principle, often contain old names, rarely indicate whether an identification is reliable or preliminary, often contain locality descriptions that need interpretation, and often have not been checked at all for errors (see below). Other problematic sources are various checklists or lists of common names that are produced by non-taxonomists and often based on interviews with fishers or on (tacit) assumptions about distributional ranges. We have used such sources only when they confirmed occurrences already likely from the range given in a good source.


The COUNTRIES table lists all countries where a species has been reported to occur. Double-clicking on any one country gives country-specific information on the species. You can double-click on any of the reference fields to view the full citation.

The most reliable reference plus additional evidence is given for each country record

The MainRef. field gives what we consider the most reliable reference for the country record. Please let us know if you disagree with our choice.

The Other Ref. field gives the next best reference to support the occurrence in the country.

The Status field indicates how the species is reported to occur in a particular country with the following choices: native; endemic; introduced; reintroduced; extirpated; questionable (in cases where an occurrence needs confirmation); and misidentification (for records that are known to be wrong).

The Freshwater, Brackish and Saltwater yes/no fields indicate whether or not the species at any stage of its development is found in the freshwater, brackish or saltwater environment of the country.

Box 7. An offer to country and ecosystem experts.

Keeping track of information specific to several hundred countries, islands and ecosystems is far beyond the capabilities of the FishBase Team. Similar to the concept of Taxonomic Coordinators, we are looking for local experts to become coordinators for their country, island or ecosystem. In exchange for helping us to keep annotated checklists complete and up-to-date, we will provide:

  • one copy of FishBase 2000; and

  • printouts (text files) in various formats from checklists to field guide (database publishing) for use by the Coordinator.

We will also attach the Coordinator’s name to every record that was provided, modified or checked.

Please contact us if you are interested in becoming a FishBase Coordinator for your country, island or ecosystem. We will send you an annotated checklist with the information we have compiled so far. We expect you to edit that checklist and to provide us with copies or reprints of relevant publications that we may have missed. A FishBase Team member will be assigned as your contact and will make the changes to the database. Please let us know what you think of this offer.

Rainer Froese


The Abundance field aims to indicate the population density of the species within its known range in the country. Choices are the following: abundant; common; fairly common; occasional; scarce.

The Importance field indicates to what extent the species is utilized for human consumption, with the following choices: highly commercial; commercial; minor commercial; subsistence fisheries; of potential interest; of no interest.

The Aquaculture field indicates how the species is utilized for aquaculture. The choices include: never/rarely (default); commercial; experimental; likely future use.

The Regulations field indicates whether or not measures have been provided to control, protect or preserve the species from various human activities. The choices include: no regulations (default); restricted; protected.

The LiveExport yes/no field indicates whether or not the species is exported, be it as an aquarium fish (ornamental or for show aquaria), as live food for restaurants, or exported for aquaculture purposes (e.g., larvae, juveniles, adults used as brood stock).

The Game yes/no field indicates whether the species is regarded as a sport fish.

The Bait yes/no field indicates whether the species is used as bait.

Double-clicking on the Comment field allows the user to search for relevant references

The Comment field accommodates any other information such as local distribution, country-specific biological information, type locality, uses, etc. Museum records are also entered; usually the term ‘Museum’ is followed by the locality and museum and catalog number of the sample(s); other information pertaining to the museum record is enclosed in parentheses. The full meaning of the museum acronyms and contact addresses are given in the GLOSSARY. Most museum records in this field have been taken from family, genera and species revisions and therefore, have been checked and verified by experts. The term Also Ref. gives the reference number(s) of sources explicitly stating the occurrence of the species in the country. In range Ref. gives the reference number(s) of sources giving a distributional range for the species that includes the country without explicitly mentioning it. Double-clicking within the Comment field reveals¾ as elsewhere in FishBase¾ a little pop-up box which allows you to search for a reference mentioned in the text.

Whereas every country falls into only one inland FAO area, a country may have up to four marine FAO areas around it, as is the case with the USA. Each country record states the respective FAO areas where a species regularly occurs. These may be accessed by clicking on the FAO areas button within the country record. Note that only diadromous fishes are assigned to both inland and marine FAO areas.

Annual FAO nominal fish catch data and general information about the country can be looked up by clicking on the FAO Catches and CountryInfo buttons, respectively.

FishBase can be used as national fish database

We are filling the different fields as information becomes available but we realize that this is a big task. FishBase, the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia and the Fisheries Branch, Province of British Columbia, Canada completed a project that has incorporated available information on the fishes that occur in British Columbia, to explore the usefulness of FishBase at the national/provincial level. Information in FishBase now includes localities, records, uses and fishing regulations. Similar projects have been completed for Alaska and Australia. We look forward to this sort of collaboration with other national or provincial/state groups. Similarly, we are looking for local experts to become country and ecosystem coordinators (see Box 7). The National Checklist database (see ‘National Databases’, this vol.) may be found useful as a tool to compile such information and make it available to FishBase.

Clicking on the Status button shows who entered, modified and checked the country record. Also shown are the SpecCode and the Countrycode, which are for internal use only. The About button accesses the FishBase Book, opens this chapter in the Glossary button opens the SEARCH window for definitions of terms, and the Print button prints out the species-country information.


Note that the country and fishing area names follow the list contained in FAO (1995) and do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the FishBase Team or ICLARM concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area and its boundaries. We are aware that several country names are outdated. The list will be updated as the opportunity arises.

How to get there

You get to the COUNTRIES table by clicking on the Range button in the SPECIES window followed by the Countries button in the STOCKS window.


On the Internet version, you can access the COUNTRIES table by clicking on the Countries link in the ‘More information’ section of the ‘Species Summary’ page.


We thank Susan M. Luna for her contributions to an earlier version of this table and chapter.


Allen, G.R. 1989. Freshwater fishes of Australia. T.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, New Jersey. 240 p.

FAO. 1995. FAO yearbook: Fishery statistics – Catches and landings 1993. Vol. 76. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy. 687 p.

Randall, J.E., G.R. Allen and R.C. Steene. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Revised and expanded edition. Crawford House Publishing Pty. Ltd. Bathurst, NSW Australia. 557 p.

Skelton, P.H. 1993. A complete guide to the freshwater fishes of Southern Africa. Southern Book Publisher, South Africa. 388 p.

Rainer Froese, Emily Capuli and Cristina Garilao