Campaign Embalse de Mequinenza

October 2016

We will end our action to save the Embalse de Mequinenza!

Sadly it was not possible to save this exceptional water of former times for generations! The introduction of an additional license of 30€ per week in 2016 was coming too late. Furthermore we could not recognize more controls in areas of best catfish stocks, financed with this money. Still we faced slaughter and poaching with many different methods, most times with long lines. We estimated the former stock of wels catfish more than 2m for maximum 10 percent at this time. The indications were a huge decrease of catch rates of big fish and an increasing population of juvenile fish. So you could recognize again: It is not possible to eradicate wels catfish as a species, only the age pyramid will change to a different and weaker constitution.

So neither authorities nor sport anglers will have a benefit at the end. We are hoping that no further waters will follow this example. At the new EU-policy the eradication of invasive species is on the schedule, among them also the wels catfish in many waters and countries. Thereby random killing is accepted, supported or conducted directly. Who is claiming and executing things like that should be consequent: Not the wels catfish had eradicated the former native species, but the human long time ago with industrialization, overfertilization and splitting all big rivers in dam sections. Especially the last item will surly make a comeback of huge stocks of salmons and sturgeons of former times impossible. The wels catfish population of today is only an answer of nature of an environment changed radically by human, where they had created a new, stable ecosystem. At the same time the wels catfish had nowhere replaced verifiably another fish species.

Our conclusion must be: Good by Embalse de Mequinenza forever, it had been beautiful times. Sadly our children never will face times like that…

January 2014 . Letter

Martin Sack

We had sent this letter at 31.01.2014 to the spanish government:

Confederation Hidrografica del Ebro:

Everybody who wants to join our protection campaign is allowed to copy this text and article, send it to other people or publish it on his own. Or write a mail to the government and announce your encouragement!


Embalse de Mequinenza – gold mine or waste dump?

The actual situation

This proposal is intended to be an animation to manage this natural paradise for all participants reasonable and sustainable.

The actual situation at the Embalse de Mequinenza can´t be satisfying for anybody. Residents and land holders moaning about waste, excrements and cut trees. Anglers about fish cadaver and killing catfish, promoted by the government. And conservationists about introduced new species of fishes. For around 10€ it is allowed to fish one year with no limited amounts of killing cats. This attracts many “angler”, which don´t care about cleanness and nature conservation by camping illegal at the river banks.

The economic value of the lake

The economic value of the lake is significantly defined by its species of fishes: Catfish, zander, black bass and carp. Because of the later (illegal) stocking the biggest catfish here at the moment are around 20cm shorter than in the Embalse de Riba Roja and other top catfish waters of Europe, like the Po in Italy and the Rhone in France. But the density of big fishes more than 2m is at the Embalse de Mequinenza many times higher. In some years, when all cats will reach in their new habitats the end length, this lake will offer by far the most big catfish density. Probably there will be all around the world no other freshwater, where an angler can catch more big fishes in weights over 50kg. The angler all around the world always are looking for the water with the biggest specimen of the respective fish species. Someday the best catfish water could not be the Po, Rhone or Embalse de Riba Roja, but the Embalse de Mequinenza, and this unchallenged!

The idea for a sustainable management

With a sustainable managed lake the province Aragon could earn much money and stop at the same time many problems of the present time.

The prices for the fishing licenses of ca.10€/year are much too cheap. They surely could be increased to 10€/day. Also it would be possible to introduce special licenses for camping at the bank, for example again 10€/day. The target would be to reduce the amount of anglers by increasing the earnings at the same time. When the demand is getting higher, the prices could be adapted. The province Aragon would profit from this earnings and could use a part of this money for effective controls.

To justify the prices all fishes would be protected, only catch & release would be permitted. At least the amount of killed fish must be introduced also for cats, and especially the big specimens must be protected for 100%. A compromise would be, for example, to introduce a maximal amount for killing cats which are not bigger than 1,50m, zander not bigger than 70cm, and so on.

The fishing methods should be deregulated. If the fishing with buoys and baitfish and feeding with pellets is illegal, catching of cats will be too difficult to attract anglers. To avoid rubbish, buoys for example could only be allowed when rented and paid high collateral at fishing shops. Only disinfected, native fish species could be allowed for baitfish, only acquirable at special fishing shops.

Who don´t accept this rules, is fishing with illegal methods, pollutes the banks, cut trees and make fire, should lose his fishing license for one year, next to penaltys.

That way the Embalse de Mequinenza would transmute from the waste dump of today to a paradise of fishing and nature, which would count to the most attractive fishing spots of the world. And then also would be a holiday destination for corresponding anglers, interested to save the water for the future.

Is this also in interest of nature conservation?

Now ecologist would surely mourn, that the business with invasive species cannot be more important than saving the nature. Fishes, introduced by human, are catfish, zander and black bass. Even the carps are not native and were brought to the Ebro in the middle age. But not these fishes had changed the former ecologic system – the liveliehood of the native species was destroyed many years before by building dams and nutrient contamination. Now the invasive fish species are generating a new ecosystem, adapted to the human influences. To eradicate all of them would not bring back the former, native species.

Furthermore species like the wels catfish are not easy to eradicate. The total mass of predator fish will adjust very fast to the natural food supply. When the bigger catfish are disappearing, this will lead in the following years to much more juvenile fishes. Only the age pyramide would change, with large quantities of young fish. This phenomenon today can be observed at all the overfished waters of east Europe/ west Asia. (for example Ili, Donau, Wolga).

When it is not possible to regulate the new and bring back the old ecosystem, it is better to use the money from sport fishing tourism, in sense of nature conservation, to protect new waters from introduction of invasive species, conserve still natural waters or spend efforts for renaturation of others.

Why do we have to act immediately?

For the sport fishing tourism only the big fish are interesting. Wels catfish can live up to 80 years, so it will take long time till a decimated stock will recover. When fishes more than 2 m are not protected well, the chance to get the best catfish water on the planet will be gambled for many years. Because especially bigger fishes are growing very slow.

What are other countries doing?

Many countries have realized the potential of their waters, or have already protected them sustainable by effective actions and are benefiting now for long time from earnings of tourism.

These countries are only some examples:

Canada, Fraser River: The sturgeon river number one of North America, maybe the last river of the world which offers this fishes a pristine habitat. And now also is a big tourism sector.

Uganda, Nil: Because of strict prohibition taking out fishes at Murchison Falls Nationalpark today here are the best nileperch catches of the world possible. In exchange anglers have to pay for fishing licenses 50$/day, and more 35$/day for residence in the national park. The paradises of former times, like the Lake Nasser and the Lake Victoria, in contrast losing their attractiveness today because of overfishing.

North America: In Canada and Alaska at many waters only catch & release by pike fishing is allowed. Because of that the amounts of big fish are here not comparable with Europe, despite slower growing in the colder waters.

What will Aragon do?

This list could be continued more and more, but the most important question is: In which direction will the Embalse de Mequinenza develop in the next years – to a waste dump or a gold mine for everybody?

Here also the original letter in Spanisch:

Embalse de Mequinenza – Fuente de riqueza o vertedero?

La situación inicial

Este escrito se realiza con el ánimo de administrar razonablemente este paraíso natural para que sea duradero en el tiempo.

La situación actual del Embalse de Mequinenza no es satisfactoria para nadie. Tanto residentes como visitantes se lamentan de la existencia de gran cantidad de basura, heces y árboles cortados. Pescadores sobre cadáveres de peces y siluros degollados promocionado por gobierno y ecologistas. Por más o menos 10€ es posible pescar todo un año, no existiendo un máximo de capturas. Esto atrae a muchos “pescadores” a los bancos que no ponen ningún valor especial sobre la limpieza y la protección de la naturaleza acampando de forma salvaje.

El valor económico del lago

El valor económico del lago está determinado en gran medida por sus especies de peces: siluro, lucioperca, carpa. Por la tarde de la media (ilegal ), especialmente el siluro más grande del lago es todavía unos 20 cm más pequeño que sus parientes en el Embalse de Riba Roja y otras cuencas europeas de la talla del Po en Italia o el Ródano en Francia. Para ello, la densidad de grandes siluros de más de 2 m en el embalse de Mequinenza es un increíblemente mucho mayor. En unos pocos años , cuando los siluros han alcanzado su longitud final de todo el mundo en sus nuevos hábitats en Europa, este lago tendrá , con mucho, la densidad más grande de pescado al por mayor en el bagre . Es de suponer que no habrá agua en el mundo de agua dulce , donde un pescador puede capturar peces más grandes más de 50 kg . Los pescadores de todo el mundo siempre en busca de las aguas con el pez más grande absoluta de su clase – en algún momento podría ser las mejores aguas de bagre ya no es el Po , el Ródano o el Embalse de Riba Roja del ser, pero el Embalse de Mequinenza , y por un amplio margen !

La idea

Con un lago eficientemente administrado, Aragón puede beneficiarse económicamente y puede evitar al mismo tiempo muchos de los problemas que existen actualmente.

Podríamos plantear algunas posibilidades: Las licencias de pesca que cuestan hoy en día aproximadamente unos 10€ anuales podrían subirse a 10€ por día de pesca. Otra posibilidad sería vender licencias adicionales para acampar a la orilla, (por ejemplo 10€/día adicionales por acampar). El objeto es reducir la gran afluencia del número de pescadores con un aumento de ingresos simultáneo. De estos ingresos Aragón se puede beneficiar y puede aplicar unos controles eficaces.

Para justificar esos precios, todos los peces estarían completamente protegidos, sólo estaría permitido atrapar y liberar. También se podrían introducir cantidades de abstinencia para el siluro e incluso los especímenes más grandes tendrían que ser del 100% protegido. Un compromiso podría ser, por ejemplo, un permiso de muestreo limitado de siluro a 1,50 m, la perca de 70cm, etc.

Los métodos de pesca también deberían liberalizarse. Prohibir la pesca con boya, pesca con cebo vivo y la alimentación con pellets de pez gato es demasiado difícil hacer interesantes estas aguas para los pescadores. Para evitar desperdicios, por ejemplo, se podrían proporcionar las boyas a cambio de una fianza en los puntos de distribución adecuados, o simplemente desinfectarlas, también se puede permitir peces de cebo de especies nativas, que se podrían comprar en las correspondientes tiendas de aparejos.

Los pescadores que no aceptan reglas, pescan con métodos ilegales, ensucian orillas, talan árboles o hacen fuego, y se les debería retirar la licencia para un año además de la correspondiente multa.

Así el Embalse de Mequinenza puede cambiar de ser como es actualmente, un vertedero, en una paraíso de pesca y naturaleza, pudiendo figurar entre las aguas de pesca más interesantes de todo el mundo atrayendo por consiguiente clientes- pescadores al lago.

¿Pero es esto lo que interesa a los que protegen la natualeza?

Los ecologistas seguramente no estarán de acuerdo con estos planteamientos, este colectivo considera que el negocio con especies invasivas no puede ser más importante que la protección de la naturaleza. Es importante destacar que es el hombre quien ha implantado el siluro, la lucioperca y la perca negra, y la carpa fue implantada ya en la Edad Media.

Pero estas especies no han modificado el sistema ecológico primitivo – ya antes, las especies indígenas desde su origen, han perdido sus características iniciales y han evolucionado durante su existencia a causa de la construcción de presas y el vertido de muchos nutrientes en el agua causado por la agricultura. Actualmente las nuevas especies invasivas componen una nueva sistema ecológico, adaptado a la influencia del ser humano. Si estas especies son exterminadas desaparecerán para siempre.

No es inteligente exterminar sin más peces como el siluro. Toda la biomasa de depredadores se va a adaptar al alimento natural del agua. Si desaparecen muchos de los grandes siluros del agua, en los próximos años va a ver una gran cantidad de peces jóvenes. Solamente canviaría la pirámide de edades con un masivo volumen de peces jóvenes. Este fenómeno es actualmente la realidad en todas las aguas del oriente que están sobreexplotadas (por ejemplo Donau, Wolga, Ili).

Ante esa situación no es posible regular la existencia de siluros y tampoco es posible regenerar el sistema ecológico primitivo, es más razonable utilizar los ingresos provenientes de la pesca deportiva, en el sentido de protección de la naturaleza, para proteger otras aguas nuevas de especies invasivas, y así obtener los sistemas de agua originales o renaturalizarse.

¿Por qué es muy importante de actuar rápido?

Para el turismo de la pesca únicamente los pesces grandes son interesantes. Los siluros envejecen hasta 80 años. Si se reducen, se tardaría mucho tiempo en recuperar su existencia. En estas aguas están los peces más grandes (más de 2m), es el agua con mayor potencial del mundo y si se pierde en poco años se necesitaría mucho tiempo para su recuperación, pues justamente los pesces más grandes su crecimiento es muy lento.

¿Qué hacen otros países?

Muchos países han reconocido el potencial de sus aguas y las han protegido con diligencias eficaces beneficiándose a la vez a largo plazo de lucrativos ingresos provenientes del turismo de pescadores deportivos.

Estos paises estan solo un par de ejemplos:

Canadá, el Río Fraser: América del Norte primer río en esturión, a lo mejor el último río del mundo que ofrece un espacio vital intacto para estas especies. Y ahora también cuenta con un gran sector de turismo.

Uganda, Nilo: En el parque nacional Murchison Falls hoy es posible pescar las más grandes “percas del nilo” de todo el mundo, protegido con prohibición estricta de matar estos peces. A cambio Uganda exige unas licencias de pesca de 50$ al día, más los gastos de 35$ al día por la estancia en el parque. Antiguos paraísos como el Lago Nasser o el Lago Viktoria, por el contrario, han perdido sus importancia a causa de una explotación irresponsable.

América del Norte: En Canadá y Alaska muchos pescadores de lucios practican “captura y suelta”. Aquí están muchos de los más grandes lucios, como en Europa, aunque los lucios crecen más lento en las aguas más frías.

¿Qué va a hacer Aragón?

Llevar a cabo todo esto en poco tiempo es complicado, pero la pregunta determinante es: ¿hacia qué dirección debe ir el desarrollo del Embalse de Mequinenza en los siguientes años – en un vertedero o en una fuente de riqueza para todo el mundo?


Juli 2011 . Appeal

Save the best catfish water of the world!

Martin Sack

In the seventies the first european catfish got confidentially into the Spanish lake Riba Roja, some years later they spread into the lake Mequinenza. While the catfish had been significantly reduced by commercial fisheries and environmental pollutions in their natural habitat in Europe and Asia the Spanish cats could grow absolutely unnoted in a river system very rich in food. No more than twenty years later the first angling tourism developed noticeable and at the Riba Roja a lot of fishing camps were built. Here lurched the biggest catfish. Many of them were killed by trophy hunters in the first years: They cut the heads of caught fish only to make a taxidermy. Fortunately this practice was abolished quickly by reasonable anglers.

While the angling tourism raised up more and more at the lake Riba Roja nobody cared about the much bigger lake Mequinenza. Although here already swam more cats, the anglers preferred the bigger ones in the Riba Roja. In the year 2006 things changed. In combination with a new fishing method – the fishing with pellets – anglers managed to catch unbelievable more cats than ever before in the catfish scene. At a single blow it was possible to catch more than twenty cats and several fishes more than 2m at one day. The lake Mequinenza faced an angling boom which went on up to today.

At the beginning professional guiding companies offered their clients daily fishing trips to the lake Mequinenza. The catch results were spread quickly and in short time the banks were crowded with angling tourists and locals.

Because of the remote location and a tolerated camping at the banks – despite a generally prohibition of backcountry camping – the calmness of former days was gone. You could see everywhere tents and dinghies. At the first time they fished at the places with better access for normal cars, later they expand into the hidden areas. Sadly most of the campers were too lazy to collect their rubbish. In short time occurred distressing amounts of rubbish and excrements all around the lake. Trees were cut in large scale to make campfire. And also the times of releasing all caught fish were all over. They leashed on cats and carps with a rope over days in the water, tortured them and put the fishes at the end alive in the luggage space. The wastes of slaughter were spread over the banks. While the leisure camper had the lake under control in summer time, in winter came good organized criminal poachers and fished also with nets and carbide – an explosive which bursts fishes in a huge radius their swim bladder.

Today nearly nothing has changed at the general situation. In some areas the police is controlling and prohibiting the backcountry camping. In June of 2012 they are planning a separate fishing license and to forbid fishing from the bank at wide stretches of the lake Mequinenza. It´s only the debt of us anglers that there are now coming new strict regulations. And it´s always our liability that we will stay welcome guests at the river and that also our children can catch big fishes in untouched nature. Today the richness in fish of the river Ebro is still unbelievable. But the human being had demonstrated many times in the past how quick it is possible to destroy excellent waters and could do this at the Ebro once again in the next years.

This article is written for all anglers at the river Ebro. With almost minor own initiative we could all make a contribution that the Ebro with all its big cats will be protected for the future. With a little bit common sense we could reach a lot!

What is a suitable behavior in nature?

In a sense it stands to reason: Don´t let your rubbish at the river bank. Put your complete rubbish in garbage bags and bring them with your car to the next village. Normally there are no garbage containers at the bank. But we have not to place our rubbish bags somewhere in the bushes or at the wayside. Bags left are scarified by wild animals in short time and then the wind will spread the rubbish all over the bank. So it´s only our responsibility that our rubbish will get into suitable rubbish containers!

When you make your nature´s call at the river bank dig a small hole in the ground and fill up everything with sand together with the toilet paper. The land is used by sheepherders: They have a much older claim at the river than we. We have been tolerated as anglers for long time and we have to care for that the cheeps will graze on a meadow and not between rubbish, old fishing hooks and lines, human excrements and slaughter of fishes. And even you want to camp next time surely on clean ground! And also in the shadow – so we don´t cut trees and bushes!

Why I must not kill all fishes?

The oldest cats in the Ebro are around forty years old. Perhaps they grow old to eighty years and nobody really knows how big they will get until then. But it´s sure: They will grow in Spain much bigger, year in and year out. But if we kill the big fishes – and there are many fishers – then we won´t fight with this giants in the future.

However, in their earlier live cats are growing really fast, after two years they are 80cm long. Whereas the meat of a younger fish is tasty everywhere it is getting by older cats worse with more train oil and fat. So there is probably less good meat at a big fish than at a younger one. It´s no problem to takeaway cats up to 1,5m for eating on your own. So it is acceptable for everyone: You have enough meat for your kitchen and the good fighting old fishes will be protected for sport anglers in future!

How do I treat fishes with respect?

The handling with respect is beginning already with the choice of the right fishing tackle. Our combatants are very strong and they are swimming between immersed wood, rocks and sharp mussel beds. We should fight the cats quickly and therefore the material has to be strong enough. Especially the fishing line and the rig material have to be very thick. Experts are fishing with main lines minimum 0,60mm and riglines of 1,4mm and more in diameter!

You land the fish by using gloves and grab the cat at the lower jaw. There it´s very easy to hold the fish and you don´t harm the cat in the gills. It is absolutely understood that we never use a gaff.

When we grab the cat we haul it in every case only on a wet mat. You have to avoid sliding the cat with his own weight over the dry sand. You will damage the mucous membrane and the fish can die later by inflammation.

When we have the cat on the mat we remove quickly the hook and measure it. If you want to weight the fish than you need a big and robust bag and a scale more than 100kg. Thereby are some assistants necessary to take care that the cat is getting quickly back into the water. All the time at land we water the cat with a pail to keep it wet and cool, especially in summer times.

Although you can see it today sadly still at many anglers: Don´t leash and keep the cats for long time at your fishing spot in the water! Thereby are occuring often mistakes. The cat is recovering worse in the warmer water with less oxygen near at the bank. The rope can – especially when it is choose to thin or knot as a narrow loop – injure the gills or leave behind brutally roll marks. We sadly are regularly catching fishes being mutilated for a lifetime by these practices! In addition  a photo direct after the catch is much more authentic and emotional! As well at night it´s absolutely no problem to make great pictures with flashgun.

When now it´s time to photograph the first big fish many people are overextended with the weight and dimension and they harm the cat unwittingly. But with some tricks we can make easily very professional and gentle pictures! At first there are every time a lot of good motives on the mat with angler and fish. Pictures with clean cats are also for the beholder much nicer! Cats are built by nature to carry their own weight in the water, not at land. If you lift the cat at its pectoral fins or under the stomach you maybe break the shoulder joints and rips or bruise the internal organs. The best things are pictures in the water! Have a look at the pictures at this web page and see how you can make very good pictures without danger!

Why are cats from the river Ebro critical for consumption?

We should notice that the catfish of the river Ebro are contaminated by recent chemical accidents. The consumption is only suited in less amounts and can lead in some areas to serious damage of health. Just the bigger and older cats more than 1,5m are contaminated with a high concentration of quicksilver, other heavy metals and chlorine organic compounds.

Why has to act every one of us?

We all are angler. We all love nature. And we all want to catch in the river Ebro the biggest freshwater fishes of the world in the future! Then help to protect the river. Be a model of a modern sport angler. Don´t copy examples of bad behavior but convince with respectable acting and words!

We have already destroyed other river systems for interesting sport fishing for long time. From the Danube Delta – the origin habitat – commercial fisher today still are reporting cats more than 100kg. But why don’t catch sport angler these specimens? Very easy: Among the commercial fishers fighting hard for their own living there are a lot of illegal poacher killing and selling all cats caught with cruel methods. In the Danube Delta could be much more big cats than in the Ebro today. But we, the human beings, don´t let it be. Please help that in the Rio Ebro can grow such specimens!

Then the Ebro will stay what it should be: A beautiful water for sport angling where people from all countries around the world are fishing together and fighting together for their interests.

This is not a guideline for the Ebro onely- do the same at other catfish rivers like Po, Rhone, Ili or Danube!