Federal legislation relevant to fisheries regulates the protection and use of fish stocks and aquatic habitats. The aim of the legislation is, among other things, to conserve the natural diversity of species and the stocks of native fish, crayfish and natural animal prey species of fish. It also aims to improve or, where possible, restore their habitats. In addition, the stocks of fish and crayfish should be exploited in a sustainable manner. The legal basis must take account of both biological and fisheries aspects.

Fish and crayfish diversity 

Switzerland is considered a hotspot of fish diversity. Due to its topological extension over the four largest river basins in Europe (Rhine, Rhone, Po and Danube), Switzerland combines southern and northern alpine species and also has a high density of local species - so-called endemics. The Swiss fish fauna includes 4 cyclostomes and 86 fishes, 19 of which are not native to Switzerland. The native biodiversity is under threat: about one fifth of the original species have completely disappeared, and of the remaining species, three quarters are considered to be potentially endangered or threatened with extinction.
There are 4 native and 4 non-native crayfish species in Switzerland. Here too, native diversity is under threat. The complete list of native fish and crustacean species can be found in the Red List and in Appendix I of the Ordinance to the Federal Law on Fisheries (VBGF). These documents provide a definition of the conservation status of fish and crustacean species and information on their natural range in Switzerland's main watersheds. Some fish species are not yet recognised at the level of the Fisheries Ordinance VBGF because their species status is still part of ongoing or recently completed research projects. Other fish, such as whitefish, are currently listed only as taxa (Coregonus sp.); the individual whitefish species are not yet listed.

Another objective fisheries legislation is to promote fisheries research. This serves to understand the diversity of fish and crayfish at all levels (habitats, species, ecotypes, populations, etc.). This also applies to the distribution of these species in Swiss waters. Research also contributes to the protection of habitats. The FOEN supports various projects that pursue these goals and promotes their dissemination. These projects support the federal and cantonal authorities in the conservation, protection and promotion of fish and crayfish diversity. Up-to-date distribution data and correct taxonomic information on the various species are essential.

Research project "Projet Lac»

A total of 31 lakes in Switzerland were surveyed as part of the "Projet Lac" research project. A total of 106 fish species were identified. Some of them have not yet been recognised at the level of the Fisheries Ordinance VBGF because their species status is still part of ongoing or recently completed research projects (e.g. whitefish). For most of the lakes surveyed, specific reports were written to assess the status of the fish stocks concerned. The results of these lake-specific reports were analysed and included in a detailed synthesis report. Data were compared between lakes, resulting in an overview of the status of fish species diversity and fish stocks in all major lakes in the Alpine region.

Video: Blue and green - and closely connected

Rivers and streams are more than just water; they also include the adjacent land. In near-natural rivers and streams, the transition between water and land is continuous, meaning there is a tight, blue-green coupling. Many creatures move between the two worlds, such as numerous insects. They spend their juvenile stages as larvae under water at the river bottom. Later, they develop wings and colonize the land. As adults, they lay their eggs in the water and the cycle begins again. The protection of insects is centrally important for humans, as they perform important tasks; e.g., in the pollination of crops or as predators of potential pests in agriculture.

Source: Eawag/

Research project "Progetto Fiumi"

Fish diversity in rivers is under great threat and needs to be better protected. The basis for effective protection is an accurate knowledge of fish biodiversity. Unfortunately, for some species groups this knowledge is insufficient to document a possible decline. In order to gain a better understanding of fish biodiversity in Swiss rivers, standardised sampling and analysis was needed in many ecosystems throughout the country. Within the framework of Progetto Fiumi, such surveys were carried out for the first time on a national scale.

Both research projects have contributed to the establishment of a unique and scientifically valuable reference collection on fish biodiversity in Switzerland. Specimens of the fish caught in the course of these studies are kept and exhibited at the Natural History Museum in Berne. The use of the data or the collection for further research projects is guaranteed and accessible to all interested parties.

Video: The riverscape as a habitat

Near-natural rivers and streams are ecosystems of enormous diversity. This biodiversity is reflected in the habitats - from very wet to very dry, from small to large stones, from sparse to dense vegetation - and, in the above-average species richness of animals, plants, fungi and lichens. Thus, stream conservation also means biodiversity conservation.

Source: Eawag/

Species conservation and promotion

The purpose of the Federal Act on Fisheries (BGF) is, among other things, to preserve the biodiversity of native fish and crayfish, to ensure their sustainable use and to promote fisheries research (Art. 1). Within the framework of species protection and promotion, the cantons are responsible for taking the necessary measures to protect the habitats of endangered species.

The Swiss concept for the reintroduction of Atlantic salmon for 2021-2025

Switzerland is part of the international effort to reintroduce Atlantic salmon to the Rhine. Since the adoption of the "Rhine 2000" program, Switzerland has participated in this international reintroduction program with various measures such as stocking, revitalization or the restoration of free fish migration. A reintroduction concept for salmon, commissioned by the FOEN, summarizes the current knowledge about this fish in Switzerland in the form of an expert report and provides an overview of the measures taken and planned for its reintroduction. The reintroduction concept provides for an evaluation of the measures taken every 5 years, with the first evaluation phase planned for 2025. The concept includes close monitoring of the measures through research and practice and defines milestones. This will allow the reintroduction of salmon in Switzerland to be adapted to future unforeseen challenges.


International fisheries agreements are in place to harmonise fisheries management and protection measures in border waters. The Federal Council regulates the composition of the various decision-making bodies of the fisheries commissions in the Fisheries Ordinance.

Climate change and fisheries

Switzerland's water bodies will be increasingly affected by climate change in the future, with major implications for aquatic fauna. In the short term, the survival of native fish and crayfish species must be ensured in the face of increasingly frequent extreme events. In the medium and long term, however, adaptation to these changes must be ensured. To this end, near-natural habitats for aquatic fauna must be restored (free migration of fish, revitalisation, shading and creation of refuges). It is also necessary to ensure that water bodies have sufficient water.
On the Central Plateau in particular, climate change is already causing visible changes in the composition of fish species. Cold-loving species such as trout and grayling are suffering the most, while other species that are better adapted to the warmth may benefit from the changes, such as carp-like fish (cyprinids).

Acute fish mortalities

On average, acute fish kills occur every two days in Switzerland. Most of these events are man-made - for example, the spreading of manure or domestic and industrial wastewater. However, acute fish kills can also have natural causes, such as drought or fish diseases. Man-made damage to fish and crayfish populations can be charged to the polluter under Article 15 of the Federal Law on Fisheries (BGF).

Berechnung von Schäden bei Fischsterben in Fliessgewässern


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Fishing exploitation 

According to the division of responsibilities laid down in the Fisheries Act, the cantons are responsible for regulating the management of fish stocks, with the exception of border waters. They lay down the management rules (e.g. permitted fishing gear and methods) and ensure that the use/exploitation of fish stocks is sustainable.

The federal fishery statistics collect data on catches and fish stocks. These statistics are supplemented by other data sets, such as the number of fishing licences and cases of acute fish mortality, as well as an overview of fish imports. Fisheries statistics also include data on fish and crayfish tagging and recapture, which are essential for many monitoring and research projects. These tagging projects and the animals caught are subject to reporting to the federal government (Art. 11 para. 1).

Stocking is carried out by the cantons in accordance with the sustainability principles laid down by the federal government. However, stocking can also have negative consequences for fish species, such as the introduction of diseases or locally unadapted individuals. This can lead to the weakening of wild populations.

Nachhaltiger Fischbesatz in Fliessgewässern


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Génétique et Pêche

Cover Génétique et Pêche

Synthèse des études génétiques et recommandations en matière de gestion piscicole. 2016

Education and training

People involved in fishing (commercial or recreational), aquaculture or fisheries enforcement require education or training to practise their profession or hobby.


The revised Ordinance to the Federal Law on Fisheries requires fishermen to have a minimum level of training, particularly in the implementation of animal welfare requirements. The so-called "Sachkundeausweis" which can be translated as "certificate of competence" serves as proof. Free fishing rights and fishing with a short-term patent are exempt from the requirement for a certificate of competence.

Vollzugshilfe Anforderung an die Fangberechtigung

Cover Vollzugshilfe Anforderung an die Fangberechtigung. Nachweis zur Berechtigung zum Fang von Fischen und Krebsen. 2007. 9 S.

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Fisheries wardens and commercial fishermen:

Instead of a formal apprenticeship leading to a federal diploma, the professional associations of wardens and fishermen may conduct a professional examination leading to a federal diploma (further education for fishery wardens and professional fishermen).

The annual national training course for federal fisheries inspectors provides an opportunity for cantonal authorities, the federal government and the research community to exchange information on current issues and acts as a further education.
Annual training courses | Swiss. Association of Fishery Wardens SVFA

Fish farmer:

At the Bavarian State Institute for Fisheries in Starnberg and the Starnberg Vocational School, people from Switzerland can gain an EU-recognised qualification as a fish economist in Germany.

Anmeldung zur Schlussprüfung (PDF, 30 kB, 29.03.2010)Compilation of the documents required for registration. Registration must be made through the FOEN

Subsidies according to Art. 12 BGF

The federal government provides subsidies (Art. 12 of the Fisheries Act) for projects that are of national importance or of importance for a whole part of the country and that address the following areas

  • Selective measures to restore and improve aquatic habitats of fish and crayfish
  • Applied research on the biodiversity, populations and habitats of fish, crayfish and natural animal prey species of fish
  • Informing the public about aquatic flora and fauna

Federal funding ranges from 25 to 40 per cent of project costs.

Last modification 21.11.2023

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