On the placid shores of Lake Shkodra, a debate is raging between Albanian fishermen on one side, and Montenegrin fishermen on the other.
The Lake that straddles the two countries is home to a wide variety of fish- notably the European eel, leaping mullet, thinlip mullet, and twait shad. Unfortunately now, all of these are endangered with stocks depleting rapidly and concerns are growing that they will become extinct in the area, much like the sturgeon years ago.
Dams, pollution, and construction have all had an impact on the lakes reserves of fish, but the Montenegrins maintain that it is Albanian fishing practices that are having the most drastic effect.
Fish weirs or ‘daljani’ have been used for centuries by both countries, but they have recently been banned in Montenegro. The practice still continues in Albanian waters and the local authorities maintain that they are being used in line with the law and cannot be blamed for falling stocks. Fishermen across the border say that their use is devastating the lake.
Marko Masanovic, a member of the Professional Fishermen’s Association of Ulcinj commented that “We have nothing this year. Before you could fish with rods, now, even with a net- nothing”.
Daljani are underwater barriers made of metal or wooden canes that are then placed over the mouth of the channel between lake/river or lake/sea. They catch the fish as they return to the lake and they are then removed from the water using a net, known in Albanian as a ‘kalimera’. This method has been used for centuries and their v-shaped nets are able to catch entire shoals of migrating fish. Whilst they were once run and managed by the state, they passed to the hands of fishing families in the 90s before ending up being controlled by concessionaires who operate them under state supervision. Whilst the government state that there are strict rules on where, when, and for how much the daljani can be used- sources have said that the system is regularly abused.
The daljani on the River Bojana are only allowed to be open between March 15th and August 31st but witnesses have described seeing them in use outside of this time-frame. Journalists attempting to photograph the weirs were even threatened by two men on a boat.
Due to the turmoils of the past few decades, it is difficult to know exactly how much catch statistics have fluctuated and with the closure of businesses that manage fishing on the Montenegro side, many records have been lost. Records from 1947 to 1976 however indicated a considerable decline on a year-by-year basis. One report suggests that the catch has declined from 250 tonnes a year 30 years ago, to just 5-6 tonnes today.
Albanian deputy agriculture minister Roland Kristo states that “ dam management, legal or not, greatly affects the number and type of fish. If it is managed well, it affects the fish, if not, it endangers fish and life in Lake Shkodra”.
So why not do something about it?
This article was originally published on The Balkanista.