Beyond the barriers: Guiding global

action to protect migratory fishes

November 2, 2018


By Roxanne Diaz

World Fish Migration Foundation


IMAGE: Seppo Leionen

On World Fish Migration Day 2018, fisheries experts released a new international book, From Sea to Source 2.0. This book shows how rivers are a critical natural resource that sustains us all and support livelihoods, health and well-being.



Approximately 40% of all fish species in the world reside in freshwater ecosystems. Apart from the 15,000 freshwater fish species known to migrate in some way during their life cycle, there are over 1,100 iconic long-distance migratory fish that depend on free-flowing rivers to thrive. Among these are the culturally important salmon of Alaska, the critically endangered sturgeon of Asia, the predatory tigerfish of Africa, the largest freshwater catfish of the Mekong, the highly migratory dorado in the Amazon and the wonderful ayu of Japan.





Tigerfish from the Sabie River in Kruger National Park (South Africa)

IMAGE: H. Wanningen

Many of these fishes provide ecological and economic benefit and value to the ecosystems that balance on them and the communities that rely on them. In fact, there are at least a quarter of a billion people who depend on freshwater fish as their primary food source. In the USA alone, the related fishing industry is worth $90 billion annually. There is also a cultural aspect to fish populations and fisheries which has often been overlooked. People in many regions are rightly proud of their fishery traditions and have a clear stake in restoring and protecting fish and their natural habitats.


People depend on fish for their livelihoods. But fish also depend on people.



Local people carrying their catfish haul in Cambodia

IMAGE: Zeb Hogan


Migratory fishes are threatened across the globe because their free-flowing river homes are under pressure. In Asia, Africa and South America there are proposals for more than 3,500 new large hydropower dams. In Europe, there is a plan to install around 2,800 new hydropower stations in the pristine rivers of the Balkans. And despite efforts to protect native waterways, an alarming number of migratory fish species are on the decline.




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”.










IMAGE: Seppo Leionen

Today we are called to action.


More and more, water managers are taking action to create open rivers without impacting safety or access to freshwater. In the USA, 1,400 dams have been removed over the last 30 years. Similar initiatives have led to dam removals in South Africa, Japan, and Australia. In Europe, the Dam Removal Europe initiative has catalysed knowledge exchange and network growth to better facilitate and support dam removal projects. Now, barrier removal projects in Spain, Switzerland, France and Finland, are currently underway. In spring 2019, the French government will initiate the biggest removal in European history by taking down the 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.




However, these combined actions are still small-scale compared to the world-wide problem. Still, at least 50% of the flow of rivers in the world is artificially manipulated or fragmented. And only 64 out of 177 rivers (longer than 1000km) are free-flowing. In an effort to show how rivers are a critical resource that sustains us and support our livelihoods, From Sea to Source 2.0 serves as a crucial resource in the ongoing fight to protect and preserve the enormous value of our waterways. It is a practical guide to tackling the threat of dams and promoting the protection and restoration of fish migration in rivers worldwide. It tells the inspiring stories, hard lessons learned and great successes from nearly every continent dealing with river management issues.







IMAGE: World Fish Migration Foundation

FSTS 2.0. is a result of a unique collaboration of over 100 international fisheries professionals and is supported by river managers, governments, research institutes and NGOs including WWF and the Nature Conservatory. It relays the experiences of fish migration experts who have generously given their time, thoughts and research so that the authors may share these with others who want to make a difference in their own country. It includes details on some of these key iconic migratory fish species and other less well-known fish from around the world in the hopes that this can be used to draw much-needed attention to these species and the pressures they face.




Dr. Steven Cooke, the Canada Research Chair in Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology remarks, “The book is comprehensive and accessible. The case study approach and extensive use of visuals helps to connect the reader with real-world problems and solutions.”




In the book, the authors mention not only the global threats to migratory fishes and the importance of river connectivity but also present implementable solutions used around the world to mitigate environmental disturbance. They provide examples of dam removals, real policy and legislation options, technical solutions, effective monitoring and evaluation methods as well as including the importance of communication.




Cristina Sandu, Coordinator of Danube Sturgeon Task Force EUSDR said, “It is particularly useful in the dialogue with policymakers to plea for river connectivity restoration, so hope that in a few years we will see more concrete results.”




Through this picture riddled book, the authors communicate the greater value of migratory fishes and free-flowing rivers on local and global levels and hope to inspire new initiatives and with people all around the world. Ultimately, the authors and supporters of this book aim to contribute to making a better world and a positive difference for humans, nature, and migratory fishes.





To find out more and support the movement, please download the FREE From Sea to Source 2.0 book at:


For more about Dam Removal Europe please visit:









Dam removal in pictures

The Vezins Dam in France is the scene of the largest dam removal project in Europe

INTERVIEW with Dam Removal Europe

Pao Fernández Garrido gives the lowdown on the biggest myths about dam removal

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