Viking Triumphs and Tribulations

Article kindly submitted by Jon Morris. Many thanks, Jon, for sharing this with us.

The location; Holstebro, N.W. Jutland, Denmark in Northern Europe, a market town established around 1100ad. during a time of great cultural development in Europe.
The time; Second World War, 1941, after the Nazi invasion. Being truly Aryan, the Danes were not a target, rather a nation to be annexed and cajoled into compliance. Through the town of Holstebro ran, and still runs “StorÃ¥en.”(Literally translated; “Big River”), formed by the confluence of a complex network of minor rivers, streams and becks further upriver, and which empties into Nissum Fjord on the west coast of Jutland. In those days, an annual silver bounty of salmon, sea-trout and white fish forged their way a 104 kilometers through West Jutland;   in a quest to find their way into the small rivers and streams where they were first given life…but all that was to change…dramatically!

The hydro-electric Turbine, Holstebro Denmark

The unemployed and disaffected of this quiet rural town were put to work by the occupying German army, building a hydro-electric station, and thus damming the river to form a huge lake, five kilometers by 300 meters at its widest point. The station was to satisfy the current demand for power for the whole of Holstebro, with a little to spare, and with typical Teutonic efficiency, the plant was built and commissioned into use in record time, a gift from the Third Reich to the gentlefolk of the town. It was to take over a half century to redress the eco-imbalance that this single act caused.

The lake seen from the turbine

What was not taken into consideration at the time was the drastic effect the building of the turbine was to have on the adipose-finned inhabitants of the river network. Even with the subsequent addition of a salmon ladder, few of the salmon and sea-trout, and less of the whitefish managed to gain access to the other side of this edifice to modernity, and those that did, had difficulty in following the old river course to their home water, resulting in an immediate and catastrophic decline in salmonids, that for millennia had migrated to and from the fjords and ultimately, the Atlantic ocean without let or hindrance.

The hydro-electric station is still in operation, remarkably still using the original German turbines, but is now producing only a couple of percent of the towns' power consumption, and could without great loss, be demolished and the river returned to it's ancient route. Being the political minefield it is, this will unfortunately never happen.
What eventually changed the fortunes of our piscatorial migrants was the introduction of a meandering river course constructed in the 1990's to gently even out the seven meters difference in height between the lake and the river, the brainchild of one of our esteemed members, giving the fish a fighting chance

The “Bypass” taken from Gitte's Bridge.
to answer natures' call. Since then, with thousands of hours of voluntary work by the members of our 100 year-old fishing club, and the financial and advisory help supplied by the ministry for fisheries and food, the stocks of migratory fish in our river system are today the best they've been since the building of the dam. Work continues to improve the biotope, for fish, aquatic mammals and birds, and it's paying dividends!

This year alone we released 125,000 sea-trout “fingerlings” from our own hatchery and 69,000 salmon in various stages of development, bred with the help of the ministry from our own indigenous stocks. We have also recently introduced a temporary “catch and release” rule (Five years at first) for salmon, which seems also to have had its' effect.

But even so, this is no time for us to rest upon our laurels! There are still imbalances that have to be addressed, notably the massive increase in the number of cormorants nesting around the fjord, which prey on the migrating smolt. This problem will be more difficult to tackle, since we have to fight a European Union directive in order to reduce their numbers sufficiently to make a tangible difference to the smolt survival rate. There are 40,000 breeding pairs of cormorants in Denmark, and when the young are fledged and are joined by migrating birds from Eastern Europe, the total (Albeit temporary) population of cormorants can reach a phenomenal 300,000 individuals, of which one tenth over-winter in Denmark. They eat on average a pound of live fish per day….work it out for your self! Such a small land mass, even though surrounded by rich waters cannot possibly sustain such numbers without the decimation of all kinds of fish stocks, both fresh- and saltwater, not to speak of the total destruction of habitat, rendering it unsuitable for habitation by any other creature!

But the Viking spirit lingers still, and every weapon in the arsenal is being employed to fight the red tape, so rife in this “United States of Europe”, and we shall not veer from our objective until every avenue has been investigated, every stone turned, every politician lobbied.

The problem of smolt losing their way on their migration through the lake to the fjord still remains, and the many resident pike enjoy the feast, but one assumes that nature and evolution will sort that out in the fullness of time. We go ahead in the faith that those who think they know best will eventually listen to the humble angler, the man who cares, and has his fingers on the pulse of the river, on whose banks he spends so many rich and  pleasant hours…wherever on this fragile earth that may be.

Tight Lines!
Jon “Moggy” Morris.
Holstebro, April. 2007