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Jadro Softmouth Trout Threatened

Predators Hunt for the Last Wild Softies

On my short trip to Croatia in mid-April I stopped, among other places, at Jadro near Solin. What I saw there made me extremely concerned. It is only a matter of time before the last wild Jadro softmobuth trout disappear and only stock fish will swim in the river. The Desaster is partly manmade.


After trying in vain to take a few photos of the spawning huchen on the Sava Bohinjka and Radovljica in the second week of April (wrong water level, colour and temperature), I drove on to Croatia. The Gacka, the second largest spring creek in the Balkans, is one of the two best trout waters in Croatia. If at all possible, I try to fish it at least once a year to get an idea of the current situation. I was supposed to meet my friend Milan Kupresanin at the river. We had a lovely time and enjoyed sitting by the river and chatting about the changing situation on different rivers. It's always fun to meet him. The Gacka was difficult as always, but if you are careful, move silently along the bank, spot your fish and wait before finally making a very precise cast, you might be lucky to catch one of its beauties. The more people are on the river the more difficult it gets as they have stopped stocking rainbows there and careless fishermen in front of you might have scared the browns causing them to hide under the water plants. Despite of this, the Gacka is always good for a surprise. I was once again lucky enough to catch some nice trout. Milan even got one of the rare grayling.


From the Gacka I went on to visit the rivers Cetina and Jadro near Split. While the Cetina was actually perfect in terms of water level and colour, the weather didn't cooperate. Just the day before, a fellow fisherman whom I met at the parking lot had caught several large brown trout on dries. He proudly presented me the pictures of these gorgeous wild fish. It must have been an extraordinary day. However, there was no sign of active fish that day. It was like magic. Everything can change so quickly when the weather changes. There was a very strong and gusty upstream wind and I only saw three fish on the surface, none of them a second time. The fish and especially the insects had probably reacted to the extreme drop in temperature of 10°C. I spotted a few of the endemic Cetina mayflies, but there were far too few to put the fish into feeding mode.


The Desaster at the Jadro

I was very disappointed by the fish population of the river Jadro, which prompted me not to fish the river this time, but to take a closer look around and see what had happened here since my last visit in 2023. It's all connected with the realization of a large project in the upper reaches of the river. During the Covid period, an oversized excursion park called "Jadro - The Spring of Life" was realized just below the power station not far from the source of the Jadro. The 3 Mio. Euro project was started in autumn 2016 and was finalized in 2021 by 80% with EU funds. The park itself is a good idea as it deals with the history of the river and its inhabitants in particular the critically endangered softmouth trout (Salmo obtusirostris) and the plants at its banks. However, to pull people into a preserved hideout (fishing is forbidden in this part) of an endangered species for the sake of tourist money is just wrong.

Although in the advertising video the speaker talks about minimal impact, I doubt this promise can be kept as the river has changed again for the worse since my last visit. They would have better turned the area around the old mill into a a visitor center and leave the headwaters untouched. The Jadro Park includes a visitor center for different activities, bike paths, an indoor fish farm for softmouth trout, a restaurant and a huge parking lot for dozens of cars. What particularly caught my eye was the massive use of concrete everywhere and the large, completely unshaded (!!!) parking lot, which gets very hot in this basin on summer days and may have very negative consequences for the salmonids in the whole river below after a summer downpour. There was a small picknick area in a cool forrest that offered the headwaters protection from the rising temperatures. Taking care of the preservation of the Jadro softmouth trout is very commendable, but the concept behind it I don't like at all, because it will most likely result in a switch from self-spawning to permanent stocking with farmed softmouth trout. Instead of leaving this sensitive spot alone, masses of visitors are now being directed there. The river is run over by tourists and participants of workshops in the future. Tourist projects have already destroyed banks of Idrijca as well as Bohijnka for the sake of bike paths (which BTW are known for their negative eco-balance). It seems the tourism developers do not know that nature is the big treasure of the balkans and everywhere they start to destroy it - for money. If you love nature you do not want to share it with huge amounts of visitors but somehow feel the wilderness. This feeling gets lost more and more. The setting up of the Jadro Park at this sensitive spot is a big mistake, but unfortunately not the only one...

Change in the Fishery Policy

While in recent years rainbow trout were stocked in the river alongside softmouth trout, thereby taking the fishing pressure off the softies, rainbow trout have now been almost completely eliminated. This was done through electro-fishing and is set to continue to happen several times a year. Rainbow trout behave very differently to softmouth trout from Jadro, which prefer to pick freshwater shrimp and other insects out of the spring moss and selectively swim along the bank. Rainbow trout swim in open water and are primarily surface-oriented, preferring to snatch white bread from pedestrians and hikers. As far as I could visually judge, the two species got along well with each other, because during several visits over the years I did not see a single negative interaction between rainbow trout and softmouth trout. A negative impact would be more likely to be expected from stocking brown trout and grayling, as it happened incomprehensibly in the Neretva in Glavaticevo (BIH).

The large pool above the pedestrian bridge was practically empty of fish. I could only see a single fish by scanning the crystal clear water from the huge rock. In the past there were probably 20-30 softies and a dozen rainbow trout that cavorted there. What hasn't changed since the last time, however, were single cormorants that kept flying up and down the river, diving and obviously trying to get hold of one of the last softmouth trout. It is tragic that the rainbow trout have been eliminated and all the predator pressure has been redirected to the softmouth trout. I don't understand why piscivorous predators are tolerated on a river that is home to such an endangered species of fish as the softmouth trout. One or two cormorants in such a small river can do more harm than hundreds of rainbows would ever do. It is incomprehensible that this change in the stocking policy will now allow them to exterminate the Jadro strain. It is easily visible that it were not the rainbow trout that were pulling the cormorants into the river (a well-known argument of neocoen extremists)  as they were eliminated. For a better understanding: The Jadro is only 2.5 km long and is therefore an easy target for the birds in the estuary area, which would find more than enough food there in the sea.

As a result of the pressure on the remaining softmouth trout, it is already predictable that up to 100% of Jadro's future softmouth trout will probably come from indoor fish farming. What good is any stocking if they are then eliminated by predators before they even grow into adult fish. A policy that can only fail.


Failed EU Predator Management

The problem is obviously based on the European predator management. It comes with far too many conditions. It could be quite simple. The regulation could, for example, be:

Goosanders, gray herons and cormorants are protected in stagnant waters all year round, unless the population increases to such a level that other living communities in these waters are threatened. In rivers that are home to endangered fish species or are used as transit areas or spawning waters for such fish species, they must be eliminated without having to apply for a special permit.

Such a simple regulation would be sufficient to protect both, birds and endangered fish species. It is incomprehensible to me that, in view of the much more serious situation surrounding grayling, huchen and the even more endangered softmouth trout, there is so little understanding from bird protection NGOs. The representatives of fisheries at national and international level (experts, scientists and NGOs) have to make their voices heard much more vehemently, too.

Lots of open questions and topics to work on

The question also arises as to whether the huge population of cormorants in Europe should not generally be considered huntable birds. Exceptional authorizations (that required written applications) to intervene in the event of an incursion of predators have repeatedly led to problems in the past because the delay meant that it was not possible to react quickly enough. When it comes to otters, the situation is no different. These are even allowed to use the very expensive fish ladders as a source of food, while anglers usually have to keep a distance of 100 m in order not to disturb the fish migration. A predator simply has no place in such a sensitive bottleneck.


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