Migratory freshwater fish near collapsing, but solutions exist

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10 Aug

Migratory freshwater fish species have experienced a worrying decline over the last 50 years, the first comprehensive global report on their status pointed out. The investigations carried out by the World Fish Migration Foundation (WFMF), Zoological Society of London (ZSL), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), WWF and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) showed that freshwater migratory fish species declined by 76% on average since 1970. In Europe, it even falls faster, with a decline of 93% on average.

The report identified several threats which affect fish migration, such as habitat degradation, habitat loss, overexploitation, and alteration of river environment. Dams are especially pointed out as having a major impact by blocking both migration and spawning. Europe’s rivers are particularly affected by more than 20,000 existing hydropower plants and more than 8,000 additional ones to be built in the upcoming years. Overfishing, climate change and pollution also contributed to this general drop which concerns all populations and regions. 
The report acknowledged the many benefits that river restoration brings, both from an environmental and economic point of view. Through various actions, fish population can flourish again, leading to a renewal of commercial and recreational fisheries. Tourism centred on angling can also be a prosperous sector thanks to the renewal of rivers’ ecosystems as well as other river-related activities such as powerboating and kayaking. The report also stressed that those restored rivers generate valuable economic activity: less barriers and more fish renew the attraction to these places for anglers, tourists and commercial fisheries. 

Despite the grim outlook, the report also draws a list of recommendations to allow for a new beginning for rivers. Together with better monitoring and data-collection capacities, guiding basin-wide planning enables to have a comprehensive overview and understanding of the river management and the consequences of each infrastructure. Tackling collapse of migratory freshwater fish species also require actions in terms of controlling the introduction of invasive species, reducing chemical pollution and waste, and mitigating climate change. Last, but certainly not least, to ensure that results start to appear, there is a need for more public awareness to increase public engagement, proper implementation of existing conservation initiatives and political will. 

In that regard, the recent parliamentary question from MEPs Caroline Roose and Grace O’Sullivan (Greens/EFA) on the state of European eel stocks show that actions are very much needed to protect a species which is still in a critical situation. A recent Commission’s assessment on the eel regulation identified many deficiencies in the current legislation for a fish, as its migration is one of the longest and most complex. On eel and many species, it is high time now to deliver for the change that anglers and all nature lovers are waiting for.
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