How can you help migratory fish? Think global, act local.

Guest Author: Arjan Berkhuysen

Editor: Patrick Cooney

Migratory fish continue to face tremendous obstacles, but the people fighting to create safe passage for fish are shifting the tide. This positive shift became abundantly clear at a recent gathering of fish scientists.

Imagine you are in a room full of scientists.

You have just discussed the status and trends around a certain group of animals worldwide, and you ask the question, “What is the most important next step?” Let’s be honest, many of you might joke that scientists will immediately ask for more research and data. And certainly more funding! However, in September last year, we had a situation where we witnessed the complete opposite response.

Herman Wanningen, the Project Manager, and I, Managing Director for the World Fish Migration Day, were fortunate to attend the impressive American Fisheries Society conference in Reno, Nevada, USA. At this event, literally thousands of people gathered to talk about rivers, nature, and fish. Together, with the University of Nevada and FISHBIO, we organised a session of presentations about the global status and trends of migratory freshwater fish. And there, after some discussion we asked the question, 

“What is the most important next step for migratory fish worldwide?”

To our surprise the main responses were creating policy actions, raising awareness, and developing an action plan. Only a few mentioned research, funding and databases. The message of the audience in Reno was loud and clear: this is urgent, we have to reach out and act, now. That’s not without reason.

World Fish Migration Day’s ‘Happy Fish’ making its way around the world to raise awareness. Credit: Henk Postma

Currently, World Fish Migration Day is working with other organizations on a new global Living Planet Index for freshwater migratory fish species. In one graph it pictures the main trend for these species all over the world. It is too early to mention the figures, but I can tell you this – it is grim. Very grim. Freshwater migratory fish populations all over the world show very serious declines. I think this is what many people involved in the subject already know. They learned this from experiences in their work, as anglers, from stories of colleagues, or from other sources.

However, the issue gets so little attention in policies, whether at a local community level or at a global level. For example, the global Convention of Migratory Species talks about hundreds of birds but has hardly any records on freshwater species. This is what we want to change and improve. It’s not that we need less of a focus on birds, but we need to include more attention for life underwater.

The growing enthusiasm of communities all over the globe that work to recover and restore migratory fish habitats and populations shows the momentum is right. There are already so many inspiring examples to do it right.

Did you know the UN declared the coming decade as the decade of restoration? Well, river restoration is one of the fastest and most rewarding measures one can take! The timing is right; we need to reach out now!

This year, we will celebrate the fourth World Fish Migration Day. At the time of writing of this blog already more than 265 events are registered in more than 50 countries. And at the time of writing, we are also in the middle of the difficult situation of COVID-19 facing us all, which made us decide to postpone the big official celebration from May 16th 2020 to October 24th 2020.

This is our chance to go with the flow and an opportunity to get creative! In consideration of the uncertainty of this situation, we encourage our community to either plan digital or physical events to celebrate together in the period from May to October. Together we can make sure that stories of amazing migratory freshwater species are being told, through newspapers, social media and television. Together we can make sure that policymakers see the urgency AND the potential of all the positive energy of people who are ready to restore. 

It’s time to think global about fish migration and make a change for local rivers. We truly believe we can make a difference together. Will you join us?

Arjan Berkhuysen

Arjan is passionate about people and nature. He believes man is part of nature and likes to work towards a future where man and nature coincide. He started his career studying business administration and working for shipping multinational P&O Nedlloyd. After years of working as an expat, he followed his heart for nature and changed course by doing a Masters in environmental management. As such he became a lobbyist for a Dutch non-profit organisation aimed at greening the EU agricultural policies. After several years in Brussels, he started as head of the water programme of WWF NL, where he focussed on restoration and protection of estuaries worldwide. He started a programme in the Netherlands, restoring natural dynamics in the delta and bringing back the sturgeon in the Netherlands. As a delta advisor, he managed several projects worldwide, for example leading to the reintroduction of Chinese river deer close to Shanghai. Arjan became director of the Waddenvereniging, a Dutch NGO protecting the Unesco World heritage Waddensea. Together with the local population, the Waddenvereniging managed to stop gas exploration plans in the area and Arjan had a successful lobby for changing the governance of the area. Arjan is particularly proud to have started the innovative Fish Migration River project on the lower Rhine. Implementation has been approved in Europe at a cost of 50 million euros. A big solution for a big problem, with the goal of restoring the great and crucial Rhine Swimway routes. The project made him so enthusiastic about the issue of fish migration that he did not hesitate when he was asked to manage the new World Fish Migration Foundation.

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