With the new Biodiversity Strategy, the EU has set itself a target of restoring 25,000 kilometres of free-flowing rivers by 2030, in addition to the requirements for Member States to reach ‘Good Status’ in all water bodies in Europe by 2027. This is essential to tackle the dramatic decline in freshwater migratory fish population in the last 50 years: a 93% drop according to the Living Planet Index Report. Hydropower and dams are identified amongst the key drivers of this decrease. There is an urgent need for further awareness raising on the impact of hydropower on the aquatic environment and to strike consistency between the biodiversity and decarbonisation objectives of the EU, in terms of policies, implementation and funding. The European Parliament is working intensely on the roll-out of the Green Deal for Europe. The webinar of the Forum on Recreational Fisheries and the Aquatic Environment took place in this context and following the World Fish Migration Day which took place on 24 October.
Both Members of the European Parliament pointed out to the dramatic decrease in freshwater biodiversity over the last decade and the urgent need to take action to restore and protect migratory fish species. MEP Michal Wiezik recalled how fragmented European rivers are, with more than 1 million barriers while “migration is crucial for the life cycle of fish species”. “A single action will not get us to the shore” argued MEP Carmen Avram, calling for a comprehensive approach to the issue of balancing biodiversity and decarbonisation objectives. She also pointed out to the importance of national plans and a thorough examination, at local level, with a case by case assessment of the costs and benefits of each hydropower plant.
MEPs also called for greater awareness about this dramatic situation to be raised amongst European decision makers and citizens. Mark Owen, Head of Freshwater at Angling Trust, representative of the European Anglers Alliance in the Living Rivers Europe NGO coalition, highlighted that “anglers have been very concerned by the impact of hydropower on fish species and migration for a long time. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in even more people going fishing and becoming more aware of issues regarding the freshwater environment. It means that, in the future, citizens will demand even more actions from Governments and the EU to improve the quality of the aquatic environment.”
Sergiy Moroz, Policy Manager for Water & Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau, also part of the Living Rivers Europe coalition, made a strong call on behalf of 150 NGOs for the EU to end subsidies to the construction of new hydropower plants and to reallocate the funds to the removal of old and obsolete dams and to the ecological refurbishment of existing hydropower plants. “It is possible to achieve ambitious climate goals, even earlier than 2050, without relying on hydropower” he concluded.
Restoring free-flowing rivers and preventing new barriers on European rivers is not only important to achieve the EU biodiversity objectives. It will also bring many economic, social and health benefits, some of them linked to angling activities and the recreational fisheries sector.