New study: Construction of hydropower plants endangers Europe’s fish paradise

++ The rivers of the Balkans support 113 rare and protected species of fish. If hydropower development goes ahead as planned, around 10 percent of all European river fish species will be endangered ++

Vienna, Radolfzell, 19 April 2018. Rivers in the Balkans are Europe’s fish haven, according to a new study published today by Riverwatch and EuroNatur. The study reveals that 113 species of endangered fish have found habitat in the rivers between Slovenia and Greece – more than in any other region in Europe. Fish expert Dr. Steven Weiss from the University of Graz and his co-authors also assessed the consequences for fish fauna if the planned hydropower plants in the Balkans are built. The result is alarming: eleven species of fish would disappear globally and another 38 species would reach the threshold of extinction. “Hydropower development is endangering 10 percent of all river fish species in Europe. Hydropower is the biggest threat to the fish fauna of our continent”, says Dr. Steven Weiss.

Among the endangered species are giant fish, such as the Danube Salmon (Hucho hucho) that can grow up to 1.5 meters in length, as well as small fish such as Phoxinellus dalmaticus, which reaches 10 centimeters in length. Some species can only be found in a few kilometers of watercourse and nowhere else. These include the Prespa trout (Salmo peristericus) or Zingel balcanicus, a species of mullet that was thought to be extinct but was rediscovered in part of a river in Macedonia during the course of this assessment (all fish species in the online fish database).

The study identifies 3 important points of threatened biodiversity: the Neretva Basin in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia with 14 listed species, the Morača/Shkodër system in Montenegro and Albania with 11 listed species and the Tara/Upper Drina system in Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina with about 200 km of intact riverine habitat.

Three rivers in the Balkans are of special importance: Neretva and Drina in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Morača in Montenegro. These rivers are habitats for more than 50 IUCN Red List species, which ranks them among the most important and diverse rivers in fish species in Europe.

However, large dams are planned in all these rivers – with the help of the European Union. Recently, the European Commission presented a priority list of hydropower projects in the Balkans, which are likely to receive financial support. This list includes no less than ten projects on these three rivers. The EU Commission intends to publish a final list of priority projects in Sofia on May 17.

Phoxinellus dalmaticus: The global population of this small species (max 12cm) is limited to the Čikola River in southern Croatia. Three hydropower projects are planned on this river, which threaten the extinction of the entire species. (c) P. Mustafić

“If the EU is going to stick to its own laws, it should stop these dam projects instead of promoting them. These rivers should become national parks instead of drowning in reservoirs,” says Ulrich Eichelmann of Riverwatch.

Neretva and its tributaries in Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of the most important fish points in the Balkans and in Europe. No less than 17 endangered species are found there. The EU is considering the possibility of building two large dams on this river. This would have devastating consequences for Salmo obtusirostris (trout species). (c) A. Vorauer

“This study proves once again the extraordinary value of the Balkan rivers and the alarming consequences of hydropower for biodiversity. The planned development of hydropower plants in the Balkans is putting an important European area of biological diversity at risk,” emphasizes Gabriel Schwaderer, executive director of the EuroNatur Foundation.

The study “Balkan Rivers – Endangered Fish Species. Distribution and threats from the development of hydropower plants” was carried out in the framework of the campaign “Save the Blue Heart of Europe”, coordinated by the organizations for the preservation of biodiversity Riverwatch and EuroNatur. This study constitutes the first comprehensive assessment of endangered and protected fish species and the consequences of the hydropower boom in the entire Balkan region.

Salmo obtusirostris: There are only 5 different populations, the best of which is the one left in the river Neretva. Dam projects on the Neretva threaten to wipe out more than 50% of the population. Dams on the Moraca River would most likely wipe out species along the system. (c) A. Hodalič


  • Download the study and visit the online fish database and interactive distribution map.
  •  This study was carried out as part of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign: About 2,800 new dams are currently planned between Slovenia and Albania. To combat this flood of destruction, EuroNatur and RiverWatch have launched the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign in cooperation with local partners in the respective Balkan countries. Find out more here: :

For more information contact: