The Loire-Allier salmon :
a survivor


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    Atlantic salmon, a magnificent fish, used to migrate up all main West European rivers, from the North of Portugal to the Arctic Circle. Nowadays, they have disappeared from all big rivers, except the Loire and its main tributary the Allier. This makes the Loire-Allier salmon a unique fish in Europe : it is now the last genetic stock of large wild salmon which can be used for reintroducing the species on other large rivers in France and Europe (Rhine, Garonne, etc.).

    Recent statistics and other news (external site)

    Photo big capturd salmonsOn the estuary of the Loire river, at the end of the 19th century, about 10,000 salmon - i.e. an estimated 100 tons - used to be taken every year. On the upper Allier, before the Saint-Etienne du Vigan dam was built, the villages of Luc, Langogne and La Bastide used to export about 10 tons of salmon (approximately 1,000 fish) to the South of France. Early in the century, anglers used to come from all over Europe to Brioude to catch salmon on the Allier river...

    Dams, the main cause of the decline

    There used to be about 100,000 salmon on the Loire-Allier basin. Today, there are only a few adults left: in the fall of 1996, 67 adult salmon have used the « salmon elevator » of the Poutès-Monistrol dam to go and breed on their spawning grounds of the upper Allier (see statistics). The collapse of salmon catches - from 30,000 to 45,000 in 1890 to less than 1,000 catches since 1975 - is due to dams, first built for navigation purposes in the 19th century, then for hydroelectricity. They have blocked the way to salmonís natural breeding areas. (see map "the principal obstacles")

    A Salmons elevator by Poutès-Monistrol (photo CSP)

    .On the Allier river, the EDF (the Electricity Generating Authority of France) dam of Saint-Etienne du Vigan (built in 1895, dismanteld in 1998) has been closing off for a century about 50 hectares of the best upper basin spawning grounds, while the Poutès-Monistrol dam (built in 1941) has totally stopped all migration for half a century, until a « salmon elevator » was built in 1986. From 1941 to 1986, only 8% of the 2,200 hectares of breeding areas used in the early 19th century were accessible. As for the Allierís main tributaries (Sioule, Dore, Allagnon, Chapeauroux), they have all been almost « sterilized »..

    The upper Loire, the access of which became difficult in 1845 when the Decize navigation dam was built, became totally closed to salmon when the Grangent (1957) and Villerest (1983) dams were built. On the Vienne-Creuse-Gartempe basin, migration is still blocked by the EDF dam of Maisons-Rouges (dismanteld in 1998): salmon disappeared from the Vienne river in 1930, while the Cher river - another tributary of the Loire - was « sterilized » as early as 1858.

    Apart from dams, salmon must face other problems: silting up and salinization of the Loire estuary, varied obstacles (nuclear plants, bridges...), deepening of the riverbed due to sand quarries, heating up of the water engendered by nuclear plants, excessive fishing, pollution, etc..

     The measures launched by the Plan Grandeur Loire Nature attempt to improve the situation.

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