Implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy: focus on fish migration in the Danube

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16 Mar

In response to MEP Michal Wiezik’s parliamentary question on the Danube’s contribution to fish migration and restoration targets, the European Commission has provided some details to clarify the role of the EU’s largest river in its Biodiversity Strategy.

The Commission recognised that fish migration is being hindered in the Danube by two large dams in Romania (Iron Gate) and Slovakia (Gabčíkovo). In addition to other factors such as illegal caviar trade and habitat loss, those two large barriers are one of the factors making sturgeons the most endangered species group on earth. In 2017, it was estimated that 23 of the 27 sturgeon species were on the brink of extinction. The question of MEP Wiezik was thus a way to shed light on the problem of fish migration in the Danube.
During a meeting of the European Parliament Forum on Recreational Fisheries and Aquatic Environment on “Biodiversity and hydropower: a Green Deal for migratory fish?”, the question of the Iron Gate hydroelectric power station was raised by Members of the European Parliament and stakeholders alike. Ms. Bettina Doeser, the Head of the Clean Water Unit at the European Commission, took the dam as an example of good practice: an Interreg project, partly funded by the Commission, is helping finding solutions for sturgeons to get around the hydropower plant. This would allow for the dam to continue its key role in providing electricity for the region while giving the crucial possibility for sturgeons to reach their spawning grounds. Stakeholders also mentioned a stocking programme for sturgeon in Romania to fight the decline of the iconic species.
Fish passages (or fish ladders) are not a perfect solution to solve the different problems caused by dams, they provide a way for some fish species to migrate again. The possible construction of such fish passage at Gabčíkovo would be beneficial to fish migration only if properly designed and implemented. One can hope that the Commission will hold Slovakia accountable to guarantee that all measures are taken to reach the Biodiversity Strategy’s and the Water Framework Directive’s objectives and allow for a better fish migration on its territory. Other impacts of the dam on the aquatic environment and on the freshwater biodiversity would however remain even if fish can migrate through fish ladders.
The impact of hydropower stations on the environment and biodiversity is well-documented. That is why the European Anglers Alliance, with more than 150 environmental NGOs, signed in October 2020 a manifesto calling on the European Union and its Member States to stop building new hydropower. Research for the Paris Agreement Compatible Scenarios for Energy Infrastructure even showed that it would be possible to reach the 2050 objective of carbon-neutrality without expanding hydropower beyond 2020. Those considerations, in addition to the existing research on the hydropower’s impacts on freshwater ecosystems, should convince the EU institutions to hear the voice of anglers and environmentalists and stop funding new hydropower projects.

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