Global Swimways – balancing conservation of migratory fishes and development

17th September 2019

Global Swimways – balancing conservation of migratory fishes and development

Anthropogenic use of water resources is unstainable and driving high levels of decline and extinction within freshwater species, in large part following hydrological alteration and fragmentation in many of the world’s rivers. In particular, there has been a proliferation of dams in response to the increasing needs for food production (irrigation), water and power by a growing global population. Currently the environment impacts to migratory fishes are not fully understood or costed in planning dams. This project will provide outputs to help inform the cost–benefit analysis of mega-scale river infrastructure developments focusing on the impacts to migratory freshwater fishes.

Project Aims

Through this project we will evaluate the potential ecological impact on migratory fish species from the global proliferation of dams. This overarching aim is underpinned by several novel analyses and policy outputs that will help to inform decision makers on avoiding or minimizing the environmental costs of dam construction when planning to meet the rising demands for water and hydropower. This project will be the first step toward connecting fish, rivers and people globally using a new “Swimways” concept, where a swimway is defined as a path used in fish migration.

Key Activities

  • To classify and map the worlds freshwater fishes according to their migration patterns. 
  • To develop a tool allowing policy makers and river managers to assess the impact of current and future infrastructure development on migratory freshwater fishes.
  • To actively advocate for conservation of migratory fishes with relevant decision makers. 
  • To raise awareness of the societal benefits of migratory fish species and their vulnerability to future infrastructure developments. 

Conservation Impact

Impacts to migratory fishes avoided or minimised through:

  • Mapping of fish migration routes identifying migration hotspots or Swimways leading to informed decision making to reduce the impact of infrastructure development on migratory fishes.
  • Site scale impacts of infrastructure development reduced through a new tool highlighting presence of migratory fishes potentially impacted through physical (e.g. dams) or chemical (pollution) barriers within rivers.
  • Reports on global impact of dams on migratory fishes informing cost-benefit analysis of development versus biodiversity conservation in the context of dam construction.
  • Raised Awareness through the American Fisheries Society, CMS COP and World Fish Migration Day.


  • Global map of fish migration routes and identified Swimways.
  • A new Freshwater Tool developed within the Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) allowing users to identify presence of migratory fishes upstream/downstream of current of proposed river infrastructure developments.
  • Policy-relevant outputs to inform industry, government, donors, regulatory bodies and conservation organisations on the vulnerabilities and values of migratory fishes. 
  • Knowledge generated on global freshwater fish migration patterns and their spatial congruence with current and future dams employed in global public awareness raising campaigns during World Fish Migration Day, Year of the Salmon and other advocacy campaigns.

Project Overview

Type: Funded Projects
Theme: Valuing biodiversity and ecosystem services
Project code: CCI-05-19-003
Start date: October 1, 2019
Status: Active

Project team

CCI partners Involved

Other Organisations Involved

World Fish Migration Foundation


Thumbnail and banner image: Cocoabiscuit via Flickr creative commons