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Intercontinental Trout Masterclass Diary - Slovenia

Action for Conservation & The Wild Trout Trust were responsible for selecting two UK youth delegates to attend the first IntercontinentalTrout Masterclass in Slovenia in August 2014, hosted and organised by the Continental Trout Conservation Fund with speakers from WWF Austria and Trout Unlimited among others.

Our two UK delegates, Tom Bird & Matt Penny, share their experiences:

Day 1 - 25th August 2014: It’s all about the marble trout!

Day 1 of the ITM answered the question of why the event was held in Tolmin, north west Slovenia. Apart from the beautiful mountains, awesome turquoise Alpine rivers, clean air and friendly people it seems it is all about the marble trout!

In the morning we gathered at the Hotel Krn in Tolmin and were introduced to the successful conservation story of the indigenous marble trout population (Salmo trutta marmoratus). Talks on how genetics have driven this conservation project were given by lead French scientist Dr Alain Crivelli and Ales Snoj from Ljlubjuana University.

After decades of stocking non indigenous brown trout into the regions’ rivers it was believed no genetically pure populations of the species remained. However, twenty years ago populations of marble trout were discovered in the upper reaches of the Soca and Idrijica rivers in pockets of head water. Since then The Tolmin Angling (TAA) Association have played a key role in the stocking of genetic pure eyed eggs into spawning sites which has increased the once threatened genetically pure population.

In the afternoon the UK delegates donned waders to assist Dusan Jesensek, TAA’s Fisheries Manager, to catch marble trout from Zadlasclca, the first site where pure marble trout were discovered in the 1990s. The group were able to observe the captured fish and were then given a tour of the TAA’s hatchery and fish farm facilities.

Day 2 – 26th August 2014: Dam it!

Today presentations were given at the hotel Zlata Ribaca on the Idrijaca river. Shaun Leonard from the UK’s Wild Trout Trust described the extensive challenges faced by UK rivers and the impact on trout populations. For us as UK delegates we thought we had some understanding of our national issues, but were surprised by the number and extent of challenges at home. Shaun stressed the importance of habitat restoration to support trout at all life stages.

Carlos Rodriguez Villfane, a biologist and film maker from Spain, described the work completed in the Duero river basin to remove defensive river structures that prevented lateral connectivity. His film showed the dismantling of one structure and showed how a river reshapes itself post dam removal.

Ossur Skarphedinsson, member of Icelandic Parliamnet, reported on the impacts of dams to indigenous trout populations in Lake Pingvallacatn and the River Oxara. As the week passed we realised the scale of the environmental challenges posed by dams in Europe; in Iceland it is the loss of spawning ground due to these dams which has impacted fish populations.

Day 3 – 27th August 2014: Great day with great talks and Kenny Rogers lyrics!

We had more films from Carlos Rodriguez Villfane depicting trout behaviour cleverly filmed underwater. Rowland from the French Rivieres Sauvage group introduced a new wild river classification scheme to protect unique rivers from impoverishment. Miro Kristan & Jana Podgornik facilitated the group in discussing the issues of stakeholder engagement and the key issues of successful catchment management. Alfonso Soria from Spain presented on his group Spanish Rivers for Life; he described the failure of stocking non-native trout into some Spanish rivers, resulting in loss of natural adaptive genes.

John Zablocki’s presentation, however, from Trout Unlimited USA, was particularly memorable and provided us with a key idea to bring home and inform our future approach to the conservation debate. With wit, humour and diverse cultural references (including Kenny Rogers country and western lyrics!) he eloquently summarised the importance of reframing ecological issues according to your specific audience. He then described the successful restoration of the Maggie creek in Nevada through close interactions with the cattle ranching mangers who understood the message of changing grazing practice to ensure water in a drought.

Day 4 – 28th August 2014: Eclectic with a common thread!

Today’s talks were diverse in subject but all linked by a common theme of conservation. At a lodge on the banks of the river Soca we heard from Iranian fisheries scientist Asghar Abdoli who reported on his work to conserve the native trout population in Lar National Park. Next a foray into the world of philanthropy with Ludwig Forrest from the Belgian King Baudouin Foundation, which highlighted the potential to raise funds for conservation work by connecting with the philanthropic process. Austria’s Christopher Litschauer from the WWF then introduced the save the Alpine Rivers Project, with a focus on the Slovenian Soca river basin. Finally we heard from Blaz Mocnik, a local fisherman and journalist for a Slovenia newspaper on the importance of connecting the conservation message and projects to the mass media.

Day 5 – 29th August 2014: Our turn to talk!

Delegates gave talks on the issues facing their own national rivers today. As Shaun Leonard had so comprehensively described the UK situation earlier in the week we decided to focus on two practical issues we has encountered in the UK and how we would now reframe them using the ideas learnt during the week. In particular, John Zablocki’s message to reframe the conservation message for your audience, and to balance conservation with social and economic forces as has been achieved with the Soca trout project with visiting anglers contributing significantly to the regional economy.

Tom presented on the River Irwell near his home in Manchester and described how many locals still see the river as an industrial resource and place to dump waste. Returning home he would now view the challenge of conservation as an issue requiring social change in attitude towards the river. The local man he saw throwing building rubbish into the river should be invited to observe the healthy fish populations at public open days rather than be berated with data on the EU water quality directives!

Similarly Matt presented on the issue of over stocking hatchery reared trout into fisheries on the River Meon, Hampshire. It can be suggested that restocking is poor fishery practice which has had negative environmental outcomes. Potentially the conservation issue can be reframed to fishing clubs as an economic and social matter. Club committees can be introduced to the idea that reducing/stopping stocking fish can save the club money as well as improve their members’ satisfaction with higher catch rates.

Photos © John Zablocki 2014

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