$200 million investment in US rivers – World Fish Migration Day

Today on World Fish Migration Day, let’s highlight some good news from across the pond. Last week, the US Department of the Interior declared that 40 environmental projects across America would receive $38 million in funding for restoring fish migration passages this year. As part of a new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, a total of $200 million will be invested in the National Fish Passage Program in the next five years. 

The dam problem

Dams are conflicting. On the one hand, they provide a clean, renewable energy source, which is vital in the current climate. Hydroelectric power currently generates around a fifth of the world’s electricity. They can also help control water flow and prevent flooding, if built correctly. On the other, they are rather expensive, have displaced around half a billion people and can cause serious environmental damage. Constructing a dam usually requires serious landscape alteration including deforestation, which is counterproductive to their ecological benefits.

Dams also present a barrier to fish migration. When juveniles travel to their spawning grounds, they cannot cross this obstacle and are often killed or injured by turbines. This means they cannot breed and maintain their population, threatening species survival. This is especially problematic as migratory fish populations are already vulnerable to habitat loss, overfishing and pollution. Their decline also has consequences for the wider ecosystem; many other animals depend on the seasonal migration of species such as salmon for food, including humans.

A boost for American fish migration

This latest investment in American rivers will help restore natural waterways and boost wild fish populations. The National Fish Passage Program, supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, helps restore aquatic ecosystems and natural waterways by removing barriers to fish migration. This includes reconnecting rivers, redesigning dams and creating fish-friendly passageways so that migration routes are not interrupted. Since 1999, the programme has removed over 3,400 barriers and made 100,000km of habitat accessible to threatened species such as the Pacific salmon and American eel.

The project receiving the biggest amount of funding is the Virgin River Fish Passage Initiative in Zion National Park. The money will go towards reconnecting all migratory fish pathways to the wild Virgin River which flows through the park. Conservationists will also reassess four major dams in the river and look at design alternatives to allow migration. This is good news for several small native fish species the river supports.

By having these barriers, it sort of segments the populations and doesn’t allow those populations to interact to aid in genetic diversity, it prevents certain groups from taking advantage of the full range of habitat.

Robyn Henderek
Physical scientist at Zion National Park

Supporting wild rivers in Europe

The European Wilderness Society promotes the WILDRivers Network, which supports the last truly free-flowing rivers in Europe. You can help by supporting and following EWS to protect WILDRivers, as well as other projects bringing back wild rivers in Europe. Dam Removal Europe is restoring European waterways by removing thousands of unnecessary barriers to fish migration.

To celebrate World Fish Migration Day, why not join the Dam Removal Cafe this afternoon? If you’d like to learn more about restoration, you can also attend the 7th Dam Removal Europe seminar in May. This is an international event on improving dam removal as a European river restoration tool.

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