A new EU-funded project will analyse the role of cormorants in the poor status of EU-protected river fish species

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03 Jun

A new EU-funded project, ProtectFish, has recently been launched to analyse the Great Cormorant population and its impact on populations of river fish listed under the EU Habitats Directive. The project, which has a particular focus on river grayling populations, will give local anglers an important role in the daily monitoring of the identified field cases.

The need for this kind of EU-funded research is high

Decades of documentation have shown that predation by abundant piscivores is a major cause of the very critical situation of many freshwater fish species in the European Union.

However, despite numerous measures taken individually by EU Member States to reduce pressure and improve fish populations within their borders, success has been rather marginal, writes the ProtectFish Consortium.
The EAA – in its previously published position on cormorants – argues that “the bird’s impact on threatened or protected fish species is a serious problem in many places. The quality of fishing is severely hampered in many inland and coastal locations, too. As the cormorant is highly migratory, cross-border cooperation, ideally a pan-European management plan, is required”.

The ProtectFish project in a nutshell

A team of EU researchers and key experts has recently officially signed an agreement with the European Commission’s Horizon Europe research programme to launch a 4-years long research project in July 2024. This ProtectFish Consortium will carry out various types of field experiments, review existing results and organise consultancies/workshops/interviews and to evaluate and synthesise existing knowledge on the role of predation on protected river fish.
The ProtectFish Consortium writes that “for a great migratory species such as the cormorant co-created management measures – developed in close cooperation between scientists, NGOs, river managers and other stakeholders such as the angling community – may improve biodiversity, boost the ecosystem-services rendered by freshwater ecosystems while reducing societal conflicts.” Through its research, the ProtectFish project aims to identify potential policy options to improve the management of EU-listed fish populations and Great Cormorant populations.
The project also aims to contribute to the objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and of the Good Ecological Status (GES) targets for rivers set by the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) in 2000.

The research consortium carrying out this work consists of universities, research institutes and SMEs from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Sweden. It is coordinated by Dr. Niels Jepsen from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU).

EU research benefits from active involvement of anglers

A key feature of this research project is the active involvement of the European angling community, as the role of predation and predator control will be measured in river stretches patrolled on a daily basis by hundreds of volunteers, including the angling community.
The effect of physical structures such as nets and natural structures on fish survival will be studied in shorter identified river stretches. Electro-fishing data combined with wildlife cameras will be used to monitor and count predators and prey to assess the impact of predation on EU protected fish.

“The ProtectFish project will – in close cooperation with relevant stakeholders and hundreds of volunteers – aim at informing policy recommendations on fish protection and potentially improve management of threatened fish. It will not only benefit EU-endangered fish species but also the economic and leisure activities that rely on the good functioning of freshwater ecosystems.” – Dr. Niels Jepsen, ProtectFish Coordinator
The European Angler’s Alliance looks forward to the scientific results of this EU-funded project and hopes for a balanced EU management plan of the Great Cormorant population the fish species listed in the EU-Habitats-Directive.

More information on this project is available on Twitter LinkedIn.
A project website is under construction.

Read here the full press release by the ProtectFish Consortium

Photo credits Picture 1: Niels Jepsen, DTU, 2018 - Cormorant management needed accros the borders

Photo credits Picture 2: ProtectFish Consortium, 2024

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