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Born in the Netherlands, Happy Fish is travelling to the biggest dam removal project in the world to celebrate freer-flowing rivers and invite everyone to join World Fish Migration Day in May.

The largest dam removal and river restoration project in the history of the United States is taking a major step toward the removal of all hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in northern California and southern Oregon. The drawdown (draining) of Iron Gate Reservoir begins today so that Iron Gate Dam can be removed later this year. Two other dams, Copco #1 and JC Boyle, will likewise begin to drain in the coming weeks and be fully removed in the summer/fall timeframe. Copco #2, the smallest of the four dams slated for removal, was demolished in October 2023.

Figure 1. The Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River

For more than 100 years, these artificial barriers have blocked the migration of several species, like salmon and steelhead trout, impeding them from reaching over 400 miles of habitat. Not only the animals have been harmed. Water quality has been severely damaged, impacting the Hupa, Yurok, and Karuk tribal communities whose livelihoods depend on a healthy river.

To turn the tide, this monumental project symbolizes a collective effort to repair a century of obstruction to fish migration, celebrate indigenous heritage, and ensure the long-term vitality of the Klamath River ecosystem. The project integrates the growing movement to remove more dams and free rivers across the USA, a trend that has also been scaling up in Europe in the past decade through the combined action of several organisations integrating the Dam Removal Europe coalition.

Today, scores of current and former state and federal agency staff who devoted years of their life to the epic task of restoring the Klamath River will join with tribal members, contractors, local officials and others in a series of dam tours and celebrations on the banks of the river. Serving as a landmark of World Fish Migration Day, a special guest is not missing today’s event.

Figure 2. Regulators and retired agency folks with Happy Fish

A Happy Fish is travelling all the way to California to celebrate the Klamath project!
Happy Fish as a symbol was born in the Netherlands within the innovative project “Fish Migration River Afsluitdijk”, dedicated to restoring fish migration between the Wadden Sea and the neighbouring freshwater lake IJsselmeer. The statue was designed by Dutch artist Bruno Doedens, who investigates the mutual relationship between art and landscape. With its distinctive big smile, Happy Fish embodies the positive outcomes that can result when communities work together to create open waterways that connect fish, rivers, and people.

The statue is also a symbol of World Fish Migration Day (WFMD), a global awareness campaign hosted by the World Fish Migration Foundation every two years. This year, WFMD celebrates its 6th edition on May 25, 2024, under the theme “Free Flow”, celebrating existing and renewed free-flowing rivers.

“With WFMD2024, our goal is to strengthen the connections between fish, rivers, and people in people’s minds. We want to inspire people to imagine life with migratory fishes and freer flowing rivers and suggest ways that they can act to create positive change. So, we encourage everyone to create their WFMD event and celebrate with us and millions all over the world.”

Herman WanningenDirector of the World Fish Migration Foundation
Figure 3. Karuk with Happy Fish (left), RES with Happy Fish (right)

World Fish Migration Day has aimed to generate awareness for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who rely on migratory fish as a vital source of subsistence and see their survival threatened by the decline in fish populations. The 2020 Living Planet Index for Migratory Freshwater Fish showed that some migratory fish populations declined by an average of 76% since 1970. When rivers are free to flow, migratory fishes can connect water and land ecosystems, provide crucial links in food chains, support healthy and productive rivers, and be part of the livelihoods of millions of people.

Help spread the word about the importance of migratory fishes and free-flowing rivers, join WFMD by registering an event on the official website.

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