Battle Brewing over "Fish Taxi" Solution in Rhine Salmon Survival Success Story

Rhine salmon could have special reason to celebrate New Year 2008. But let's back up a bit first: European nations through which the Rhine River flows made a pact, "Salmon 2000", to restore the extinct native Salmon to the river, which was polluted and unpassable to spawning fish due to man-made barriers. Already twenty years ago, the plans were laid out: enable the salmon, which have been forced to abandon their annual migrations and remain in the northern seas, to return to their birth places in the Alps at the source of Europe's great river.

The Swiss have done their share. But the salmon have not returned. Salmon fingerlings are now surviving in the lower parts of the Rhine, where the success at reducing pollution and improving the habitat can only be declared a fantastic achievement. Blame is being placed on the French, specifically the French energy monopoly EDF.The French company owns power plants along the Rhine with 11 to 16 meter (36 to 52 foot) dams. A recently released report of the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine shows that the mortality rate for salmon attempting to swim upstream against the turbines is between 26 and 42 percent. EDF has refused to cooperate with demands to install expensive fish ladders similar to those installed in Switzerland. Instead, EDF has conducted a demonstration project to scoop fish out of the river and bus them, by tanker truck, to a point higher upriver--bypassing all of the EDF power plants. Eco activitist scoff at this naive attempt to play with Mother Nature, and further claim that the demonstration project, conducted on a smaller waterway, is not representative of the conditions on the complex Rhine river.

Welcome the Happy New Year: the Swiss believe they have found the key to manipulating the French into giving up their post-Versailles claim to use the lower Rhine as they see fit. The key is a single power plant which is up for re-licensing in 2008. The powerplant at Kembs, the southernmost plant on the French Rhine where it borders with Switzerland, is 20% owned by the Swiss. The Swiss believe they can make the release of more water into the old Rhine a condition of relicensing for the Kembs plant. This would divert water from the Grand Canal at Alsace, in favor of the original riverbed which currently often runs dry. If successful, the diversion would create a barrier free detour for migrating salmon as well as establish a renatured zone to the benefit of all in the region of the 45 km (28 mile) stretch of river.

But EDF would suffer losses from this solution. And the question of whether the move threatens French national sovereignty dating back to post-war treaties looms. But as this year comes to an end, let us hope for the positive. Raise the glass, then, at this new year's celebration; here is to the Salmon: May they prosper in a prosperous Europe.

Via ::Spiegel (English)
Image via ::Spiegel, credit AFP: "A salmon on its way through a fish ladder at the French dam in Gambsheim."

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