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.).
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
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")
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 »..
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..
measures launched by the Plan Grandeur Loire Nature attempt to
improve the situation.
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