Valbona River

Valbona’s community protest against HPP-s in Valbona

Bajram Curri, Tirana, New York,  April 11th , hundreds of local community, joined by supporters from all over Albania gathered at the Museum, in front of the statue of Bajram Curri to protest the construction of 14 hydropower plants along 30 km of the Valbona River.  This is the first public action of a campaign started by local people and supported by National and International NGOs, to protest the destruction of one of Albania’s most precious and best-loved natural areas, and one of Albania’s most popular tourism destination.

Proteste-Valbona-ecoalbaniaNine of the 14 hydro-powers fall on just 20km of the Valbona River which are inside of Valbona National Park, an IUCN Level II protected area since 1996, and the keystone of the National Park of the Albanian Alps which is due to be instituted this year, creating one of the largest protected areas in the Balkans.

Local people object to the Plants for 3 major reasons:

1) On an environmental basis, the plants will destroy the area, putting most of the river and several of its tributaries into large 2.5-3m tubes. This will not only cause a massive and irreversible damage for the river, but it will destroy much of the surrounding landscapes.

Valbona-Qendra EDEN

2) On an economic level, the conversion of one of Europe’s most pristine landscapes into an industrial zone will destroy the burgeoning tourism industry.  The flow of the river, some 3m3/s during much of the year, cannot generate power sales which will compensate the loss of tourism income, and will not in any meaningful way contribute to the national economy.  The plants themselves will provide no long-term employment or financial benefit to the local community.

3) There is widespread outrage at the manner in which the projects have ignored or circumvented Albanian law, failing to conduct genuine public consultations, instead submitting short lists of 12-20 signatures the majority of which are either fraudulent, or belong to employees and relatives of the companies involved in this project. Their valuations show no depth study of the biodiversity of the area, ignoring its status as a Protected Area.  That these documents, which do not stand up to any examination, should have been accepted by the responsible agencies as adequate is a scandal of national proportions, and seriously calls into question the competency of government officials.  Although Management and Zoning plans for the Protected Area have been prepared which would clarify the legal protection of the area, their ratification has been blocked to date by the Ministry of Energy.

We ask to the Al Government to stop these HPP-s in Valbona and invest more in the tourism and agricultural development of the National Park.

Valbona-New YorkThe Bajram Curri Demonstration and its simultaneous Protest in Tirana and New York aim to draw public attention to the situation, to hand out as much information as possible and to raise public awareness. A petition for the deliberative institutions by the protesters will be sent to the local government. In the meantime, since learning of the project plans in January 2016, concerned local people working with a coalition of National and International NGOs have rushed to collect documentation, filing official Administrative Appeals.  Should these appeals fail to be effective, lawsuits will be filed, in a historic precedent for Albania.


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Fly-fishing for science

Next week a CTCF delegation in cooperation with EcoAlbania will visit the Valbona River valley in Albania. Initially the purpose of this trip was to get a general impression of the situation in the basin, and to assess its potential for a project that combines trout/habitat conservation and the establishment of eco-tourism in that very habitat. Depending upon this trip’s findings and results we were to define its continuation, the first priority most probably being the necessity of doing scientific research in order to determine which particular trout species we would be dealing with.


© René Beaumont/ CTFC

It should be noted that only nine trout specimens have ever been sampled along quite a long stretch of the Valbona River (by Alain Crivelli; see previous blogs). This is, by far, not enough to get any picture at all of the genetic structure of the trout in this basin. In this respect we asked ourselves, while being there, and surely not able to resist the urge to cast a fly or two, why we should not collect the genetic material needed for such survey ourselves? And so it will be.

Since he would not be able to make it to Albania, Aleš Snoj, dedicated to the project as genetic researcher, provided a crash course on how to collect and preserve fin clips the proper way. Carlos Rodriquez, holding a Ph.D. in Aquatic Biology, will supervise the collecting, and document it. We also are happy to have on board Denik Ulqini, from Shkodra University who is a fish expert and skilled on its sampling methods. The flyfishermen: Alfonso Soria, Tjong Khoe, Olsi Nika, and René Beaumont. All samples will be shipped to the Department of Animal Science of the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, for further investigation by Aleš Snoj c.s., and, ultimately, by Alain Crivelli.

Last but not least: at the last minute Johannes Schöffmann decided to join us in Albania, where he last did research some twenty years ago. For the past decades Johannes has contributed largely to the world’s knowledge of salmonid distributions, phylogenetics, and ecology through countless adventures to remote places in his search for native trout. Johannes has been referred to as “the master without a Masters”. He never attended a university yet became a world expert on his subject, and expanded the understanding of the incredible diversity of trout.

By René Beaumont/ CTFC

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The first step: Know what’s up

Albania… Probably this is the only country in Europe where no brown trout from Atlantic strains have been introduced by man, ever. Here, trout come in the diversity of a dream factory’s kaleidoscope: S. marmoratusS. ohridanusS. letnica – three to four subspecies or forms, S. trutta – brook and lake forms, S. farioidesS. peristericusS. montenegrinus, … Unfortunately these gems of evolution are a much threatened fish species in this country, due to the intense poaching, all year round, all over.

Yet they still can be found in remote places, many of those being rather difficult to access. The main question: which trout is where, and which species (singular/plural?) are we dealing with in the Valbona basin?


Valbona River © O. Nika/ EcoAlbania

For a full understanding of the current situation in the project area, scientific knowledge is –of course- the very base for working on sustainable solutions for conservation. In a previous survey, performed in 2005, the trout in the Valbona system were found to be genetically very heterogeneous. It is not known how many evolutionary lineages there are in this system, nor if these are native or perhaps introduced as is the case, for instance, in Macedonia and southern Serbia, where many a trout trans-location between Adriatic and Aegean rivers have been observed. Given the high trout diversity in this area, it is of main importance to establish evolutionary significant units and also management units. Therefore it has been suggested to repeat that very survey and extend it to new sites (in the Valbona catchment and in neighboring basins as well) which potentially hold autochthonous trout. In the mean time also the density of the trout present can be assessed. It is believed that such study, ten years after, is a prerequisite in terms of trout and habitat conservancy in the project area. Based on the results obtained at this stage, next steps will be considered.

In this project Continental Trout Conservation Fund partners with the recently established NGO EcoAlbania. The two assured themselves of collaboration with the finest of experts. All of these do have the expertise plus the experience required to make this project a success.

Alain Crivelli – Research Director at Tour du Valat, Centre de recherche pour la conservation des zones humides méditerranéennes (France): research coordinator

Aleš Snoj – Senior Research Associate at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia); Balkan Trout Restoration Group : genetic researcher

By: Rene Boumont/ CTCF & Olsi Nika/ EcoAlbania

Further information: | Continental Trout-Albania 

Olsi Nika – E-mail: [email protected] | Tel.: +355 69 29 44 757

René Beaumont – E-mail: [email protected]


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Continetal Trout Albania

Albania, breathtaking and promising!

At the last day of the activity organized in the Soča valley Tolmin, Slovenia, on 24th -30th of august 2014, we tried to show the situation of the Albnanian rivers in our country as well as the ways of how to work on the protestion of their natural values.  Hardly familiar with Albania at all, the audience was quite surprised and impressed by this presentation. Albanian Alps have breathtaking headwater settings with pristine rivers which –thanks to their hydro-morphological and physic-chemical conditions- hold a great potential for hosting healthy wild trout populations.


On the other hand, the economic situation in Albania is a serious threat for the Albanian natural heritage, especially in such remote parts. In this respect the plans for the construction of whole series of hydropower dams are a point of particular interest.
Inspiration, however, was found on the spot, in Tolmin, in the showcase of our very host city. Introducing catch & release flyfishing to the Soča River and its tributaries had generated a substantial and sustainable source of income for the local community. And it still does. Since this is believed to be a most adequate way of creating a win-win relationship between nature and people, also courage was drawn right from this example. Then, after discussing, and empowered by the ultimate Leitmotiv “why not?” we decided to just go for it – CTCF, CT-Albania (EcoAlbania), and our partners.
Meanwhile we have defined a starting point project area in the Albanian Alps – Accursed Mountains, which extend from northern Albania to eastern Montenegro and Kosovo. The Valbona River is Albania’s largest and probably has the highest potential of all in terms of biodiversity and biomass in the Albanian Alps. Almost the entire watershed is situated in a National Park. We already have good and steady contacts in the region, some of them even having undertaken initiatives to develop eco-tourism by creating a basic infrastructure. What’s more, the Valbona trout do have some fame, not only in the region, also beyond. However the trout population due to illegal fishing is dramatically decreased in the last years, but the potential of the habitat is still so inviting to undertake some initiatives for restoration and most probably to succeed. Their reputation will help further profiling (the safeguarding of) these trout as a means and as a mascot for enhancing the local situation and its economy, which is much welcomed by the local communities of the Valbona River valley.


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