Study confirms: The Heart of the Huchen beats on the Balkans

Rare and huge: the Huchen.

© Clemens Ratschan

Globally endangered fish species detected in 43 rivers on a length of 1,840 km ++ 1,000 km of which threatened by hydropower projects ++ campaign to stop dams

Joint press release by Riverwatch and EuroNatur from 19.3.2015


Ljubljana, Radolfzell, Vienna.  As a contribution to this year’s UN World Water Day (22.3.), representatives of the fields of science and fisheries in cooperation with environmental NGOs present a study about the distribution of the Huchen on the Balkan Peninsula. Within the context of the international campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe”, 18 scientists from 7 countries explored for the first time, in which rivers between Slovenia and Montenegro the Huchen can still be found. The results clearly show that the Balkan rivers constitute the last big hot spot for this species. Self-sustaining populations of Huchen were found in 43 rivers with a total length of 1,842 kilometres. This corresponds to 65 percent of all known Huchen stretches worldwide. Find the complete study here: The Huchen Hucho hucho in the Balkan region

The Huchen (Hucho hucho) – also referred to as Danube Salmon – is one of the most popular and rarest species in our latitudes. Up to 1.8 metre in length, it lives in free-flowing rivers rich in oxygen – exclusively in the Danube region. As a result of river constructions and pollution, its populations have declined considerably across Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. So far, knowledge about the distribution of the Huchen on the Balkan Peninsula has been incomplete.
At the same time, the study shows that 1,000 kilometers of Huchen rivers on the Balkans are threatened by hydropower projects. A total of 93 dam projects were identified directly in river reaches supporting Huchen.

“Balkan rivers are paramount for the survival of the Huchen. If these dams are constructed, we predict that about 70 percent of the Balkan population would be lost”, says Prof. Dr. Steven Weiss of the Karl-Franzens University Graz, co-author of the study. The consequences will presumably be even more dire since the remaining populations would be too small to be able to survive in the long run. “The existence of Huchen and other protected species is incompatible with such hydropower development”, the experts conclude.

One of the most important Huchen rivers in Europe is the Sava River in Slovenia. With its tributaries, the Sava provides habitat to the Huchen for a total length of 317 kilometres. This is the second longest stretch on the Balkans, surpassed only by the Drina River. However, 11 dams are in the pipeline along its course. “We will prevent this from happening” so Neža Posnjak, coordinator of the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign in Slovenia. “In regards to the Huchen, Slovenia has a special responsibility within the EU. We urge the Slovenian government to stop hydropower development along the Sava River and its tributaries and instead protect all Huchen rivers, including the Sava stretch upstream of Litija to Zidani Most” Posnjak continues. This is exactly where the energy industry plans to build the next hydropower plants.

Fishing associations support the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign. Miroslav Žaberl, president of the Slovenian Angling Alliance, which represents 12,000 anglers in Slovenia, says “For us, the Huchen is the king of rivers. Wherever it lives, anglers from all over the world are willing to pay more for a fishing licence. Thus, the Huchen ultimately generates an increased income for the region. We support the Huchen and oppose the dams.”

The occurrence of Huchen is yet another example of the tremendous value of Balkan rivers. It also sheds light on the inconsiderable and excessive approach of the hydro lobby and politicians.

“Disguised as a green form of energy generation, the last habitats of one of the most endangered species in Europe are to be destroyed. In cooperation with anglers and river lovers from all over the world, we want to stop the damming of these rivers. All Huchen stretches must be designated as protected areas” concludes Ulrich Eichelmann from Riverwatch, coordinator of the campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe.

Background information about the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign:
Nowhere else on the continent can one find such a tremendous number and variety of pristine, wild rivers than on the Balkans. These rivers, however, are threatened. The projected dams along the Sava River constitute only one wave of a true dam tsunami that is putting Balkan rivers at risk. More than 2000 new dams are projected from Slovenia to Albania. In order to counteract this spate of destruction, EuroNatur and RiverWatch have launched the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign in cooperation with local partner in the respective Balkan counties. Find out more here.

More Downloads:

The Huchen Hucho hucho in der Balkan region - Summary
The Huchen Hucho hucho in der Balkan region - Maps 1 and 2

Further information:
Neža Posnjak – 00386 31 549 055
Cornelia Wieser – Riverwatch 0043 650 4544784
Ulrich Eichelmann – Riverwatch -  0043 676 6621512
Katharina Grund – EuroNatur 0049 7732 927210
Steven Weiss –  0043-660 4383336

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