The last place you would expect to find a world-unique Ohrid trout (Salmo letnica) is on the streets of Skopje. However, that might soon be the only place you can expect to see one. Numbers are dwindling and it may not be long before these culturally, economically and ecosystemically important fish disappear forever.
That is the take-home message from an innovative guerrilla art installation that suddenly appeared in the center of Macedonia’s capital city this week. Created by the Urban Art Intervention collective (Урбани уметнички акции), it warns citizens and visitors alike that an iconic symbol of the country’s rich natural heritage is teetering on the edge.
Tragically, the problem is not just an Ohrid story either. Besides Salmo letnica and Salmo ohridanus, both of which are endemic to Lake Ohrid, other trout kinds only found in small regions or specific river systems are under threat in Macedonia too, and insufficient monitoring is inhibiting efforts to understand the full extent of their decline.
Meanwhile, re-population schemes seem unlikely to solve the problem alone. In the face of overfishing, poaching, habitat loss, and pollution, decades of attempts have failed to restore numbers of Salmo letnica. At the same time, other trout in Macedonia face additional demons such as hydroelectric dams, competition from non-native species and water abstraction.
Clearly, rehabilitation for Macedonia’s freshwater diversity and a guarantee for the future of its fishing industry require multiple solutions. While these should start with cross-border fishing bans, freshwater protected areas and greater enforcement of anti-poaching measures, they should also incorporate pollution reduction, wetland rehabilitation and a reassessment of how water resources are used in general, not least with regard to hydroelectricity.
📷: Nikola Pisarev