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Growing revolution in dam removal and river restoration
Thousands of roadblocks for migratory fish are being removed to safeguard healthy fish stocks in rivers around the world.
A real ecological revolution has started. Perhaps in the most unlikely of countries: the Netherlands, famous for its dikes and strict water management, is leading the way in a new wave of thinking about the dams and weirs that cover Europe's waterways. Historically, barriers and blockades in our rivers kept communities safe. But many of these structures are roadblocks that contribute to recent rapid declines in European fish stocks. Migratory fish such as sturgeon, salmon and eel, all of which have huge ecological and economical value, rely on unhindered passage through the rivers to reproduce. As a result of river barriers, they are now seriously threatened.
So, after decades of building roadblocks that stop fish migration, the Dutch have decided to break them down again. Sluices and tide gates are being opened up to let fish migrate freely, and multi-million euro projects are being undertaken all along the Dutch coastline. Even the iconic 'Afsluitdijk' that links the provinces of Friesland and North Holland is being fitted with a 20 meter wide gap that will allow water to flow through and form a 4 km long tidal Fish Migration River. This will be a 'one of a kind' fish passage facility, and a unique export concept for similar situations around the world.
Taboo on Dam Removal is gone
These developments in the Netherlands are symbolic for what is happening across the globe. More and more, water managers are taking similar action to create open rivers without compromising safety. Historically, dams and weirs were considered an integral part of the landscape – but the mood is changing. It's no longer considered "taboo" to talk about removing old and obsolete dams. In the USA, 1,400 dams have been removed over the last 30 years. And now, things are taking off in Europe: dam removal projects in Spain, Switzerland and Finland, are currently underway. What's more, organisations are celebrating World Fish Migration Day with specially-scheduled dam removals. In Spain, the Yecla de Yeltes dam is being removed and the world-famous Kruger Park in South Africa is also marking the occasion with a dam removal event. The momentum is sure to keep building - in spring 2019, the French government will initiate the biggest removal in European history by taking down the now obsolete 35m high Vezins Dam.
"With the cost of renewable solar and wind energy plunging, the world no longer needs so many new hydropower dams, which will block fish migration routes and devastate fish stocks, undermining food security and sustainable economic opportunities for countless communities across the world," said Stuart Orr, WWF Leader, Freshwater Practice. "The growing dam removal movement in Europe and elsewhere shows that countries are starting to value rivers for more than the just water and power they supply."
From sea to source 2.0
A new book released on World Fish Migration Day (April 21st) provides a practical guide to tackling the threat of dams and promoting the protection and restoration of fish migration in rivers worldwide "From sea to source 2.0" is a unique collaboration of over 100 international fisheries professionals and is supported by governments, research institutes and NGOs including WWF and the Nature Conservatory. Aimed at practitioners but also a wonderful resource for the general public, the book is full of inspiring stories, hard lessons learned and great successes from nearly every continent on the planet.
The challenges migratory fish face are acknowledged more every year. "All over the world we see people working with passion and commitment to save and bring back migratory fish", says Arjan Berkhuysen, managing director at the World Fish Migration Foundation. "By connecting these people, we believe we give their work and aspirations a boost, from local scales to global initiatives. Together we can make a global impact".
The threats are still real
All around the world, people depend on fish for livelihoods, economic value and healthy ecosystems. But fish also depend on people, to be able to freely migrate and thrive. There are around 15,000 freshwater fish species known to migrate in some way during their life cycle. Around 1,100 of these are long-distance migratory fish that require free-flowing rivers, including the iconic European eel that migrates over 10,000 km between the Sargasso Sea and European rivers. Healthy, connected rivers are fundamental to human existence. At least a quarter of a billion people depend on freshwater fish as their primary food source. The related fishing industry is a vital economic resource, worth $90 billion annually in the US alone. When fish disappear, eventually other animals will too.
Jeremy Wade, host of the River Monsters (Animal Planet) TV series said: "Originally, our disruption of fishes lives was through ignorance, but we no longer have that excuse. For the sake of our fish, and our rivers, and ultimately ourselves, it's time to help the fish swim free".
Globally, monster fish like catfishes, sturgeons, eels, but also river dolphins, are harder and harder to find, because their free-flowing river homes are under pressure. There are proposals for more than 3,500 new large hydropower dams in Asia, Africa and South America. This is a huge threat to migratory fish around the planet. In Europe, there is a plan to install around 2,500 new hydropower stations in the pristine rivers of the Balkans. Despite efforts to protect native waterways, an alarming number of migratory fish species are on the decline. From sea to source 2.0 will be a crucial resource in the ongoing fight to protect and preserve the enormous value of our waterways.
For further information and interviews, please contact:
Kat Bebbington, WFMF Communication, Mob +31624982876 ; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org