Coarse Fishing in Spain by Philip Pembroke

Buscalo, February 2008

The River Ebro is the lifeblood of the people  

On the embankment wall, facing the indoor market at Tortosa, on the banks of the River Ebro you may have noticed a large white graffiti slogan that states “ El Riu es Vida” – the river is life.

Although many fishermen, who visit may not understand this Catalan message they will share most of its sentiments with its authors. Fishermen will enjoy the unique green beauty of the Ebro valley, the abundance and variety of its trees, flowers and birdlife and notice a traditional, rural way of life that has sustained a sizeable human population for more than three centuries.

This length of time is the period in which the Ebro delta was created, by the natural accumulation of silt deposited by the River Ebro at its mouth. Before then Tortosa was a port on the Mediterranean Sea.

Ok, so history never stands still but many scientists predict that the Baixe Ebro (lower Ebro region) faces an uncertain future at best, and at worst the delta, slowly sinking, might experience a dramatic acceleration in this trend.

The reason for the disappearing delta is that millions of cubic metres of water, extracted upstream for outdated and wasteful irrigation has drastically reduced the volume of water exiting into Mediterranean Sea. The capacity of the river to hold sediment is compromised and a large proportion of silt is deposited above dams at Mequinensa.

The last national scheme to divert the seemingly infinite water supply from the Ebro to the “dry south” was dropped by the outgoing Socialist government in Madrid. But the river is a long way from safety.

Recently fishermen have noticed a decline in some species of freshwater fish and a rise in the numbers of others. Barbel, a native fish species; is very sensitive to changes in water quality and have a much lower tolerance to toxic discharges than catfish for instance. They have almost disappeared from the main river channel. But still maintain a healthy breeding population in the surrounding clean feeder streams in the Els Ports Mountain’s national park.

The huge rise in the numbers of channel catfish in the last decade coincides with the increase in sewage discharges into the Ebro especially from large cities like Zaragoza.

These discharges have caused an explosion of aquatic algae, which is symptomatic of a decreased oxygen content level in the water. The channel catfish has a high tolerance to pollution and can withstand low oxygen levels better than much barbel.

Likewise Wel catfish (siluro), a much larger species than the channel catfish, will notice very little degradation to its environment. In future the Ebro may support a large number of introduced fish but only a few native species, for instance shad. This reduction in aquatic biodiversity will have a knock on effect for the ecosystem at large.

As more expats move to the Ebro, in search of a new way of life, so the pressure on the environment grows. This is a fact of life, how the problems it presents are tackled will decide the fate of the region in part.

The fact that the Tortosa Ayuntiamento (local government) over the years have never attempted to whitewash the graffiti slogan - from the memory of its people, suggests overwhelming tacit, local support and reflects a love and respect, of the inhabitants in their everyday lives. for the natural surroundings. They know and understand that if the river is destroyed so is their livelihood.

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