Saving France's thirsty fish

25th August 2005, Comments 0 comments

We all know there's a drought on in France. But have you spent anytime worrying about the poor fish in those dried-up rivers? Game wardens in southwest France have.

Game wardens give hope to the perch

As the water levels drop has dropped in rivers all over France this month, the fish have gotten thirsty too.

Game wardens in the Poitou-Charente are using stun guns to transfer fish out of their region's most dried-up rivers; it's only one example of a series of measures from both local government, farmers and ecologists to combat what some say is the country's worst drought in sixty years.

Operation Save a Fish

To save them from overcrowding and oxygen deprivation, game wardens in southwest France are using improvised stun-guns to knock out the fish in their region's most depleted rivers and then transferring them to bigger rivers with deeper water.

*quote1*"On Wednesday, we took 150kg (330 pounds) of perch, pike, bream, roach and gudgeon from the Né River, which is 60km(40 miles) long and normally has a depth of around a meter (three feet)," said Pierre Girondeau, in charge of the operation near Châteaubernard, 130km north of Bordeaux.

"Last week, the wardens took 200kg (440 pounds) of fish from pools that were often no more than 30cm deep," he added.

The shrinking Charente river

These measure may seem extreme but, a week later, most of the Né had gone dry; those fish would be dead right now.

The wardens use a pole with a wire connected to a battery, and a copper ring on the end that goes in the water.

The electroshock stuns the fish, which are then scooped up in nets, placed in tanks of water with oxygen bubbling through it, and transferred by truck to the Charente River, several kilometres away. The Charente is one of the main waterways of the region, although its water levels are down too this year.

"They're flapping around again after half an hour," Girondeau said.

The Né, which is a tributary of the Charente, lost many of its fish in 2002 due to an accidental discharge of arsenic, and Girondeau is looking ahead to restocking it once its water levels have come back up.

Drought alert

But Girondeau says the Né is even drier now than in the summer of 2003, when extreme heat killed 15,000 people in France -- a summer that was hotter than any in more than 100 years of record-keeping, and perhaps the hottest over the past 500 years, according to some meteorologists.

*sidebar1*The fish-transfer operation comes as France, Spain and Portugal suffer intense drought that is withering crops and fanning forest fires that have, to date, killed 23 fire-fighters and devastated tens of thousands of hectares of forest and farmland.

The drought is even affecting oysters, which live in bays along the Atlantic coast but which, to reproduce, need fresh water from the rivers emptying into the bays; the fresh water reduces reduce salinity and moderates temperatures. Without it, the oysters can't breed.

And, although the summer hasn't been has mortally hot as 2003, the drought is affecting people too.

The use of water for agriculture, swimming pools and even washing cars has been banned in many areas in the three countries. But the regulations are difficult to enforce, with some householders sneaking out to water their gardens and lawns at night. If they're caught, they can be subject to heavy fines from the so-called 'water police.'

It's not this bad yet

Drought debates

The drought has also fuelled a polemic over agriculture; the most frequently repeated demand is for farmers who grow corn -- which needs heavy irrigation, especially during the summer when water levels are lowest – to switch to crops that can manage with less water.

The Union fédérale des consommateurs (UFC) and its consumer advice magazine 'Que Choisir' has also been raising an alarm over what it calls unfair irrigation tax policies.

According to an August report from UFC/Que Choisir, farmers in water-deprived regions that are heavily agricultural often pay up to six times less for their water than other regions where farmers wield less political power.

The report "denounced the incoherent and counter-productive politics that direct local water agencies' fight against the drought."

The report pointed the finger particularly at the Aquitaine, the Midi-Pyrénées, the Pays de la Loire, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur and the Poitou-Charentes.

August 2005

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, drought, Charente, ecology

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