A Lake’s Fish Stocks Fall, and Montenegro Blames Albania

Dzelal Hodzic fondly remembers the biggest catch of his life.

"You could feel it by the noise," said the veteran Montenegrin fisherman. "It was night, and they just said 'lift!' It took us from morning until the following night to get it out. We didn't know what to do with that much fish."

It was October 1971, and Hodzic - now head of the environmental group Green Step - and his colleagues had just landed 23 tonnes of fish in a single net, trapping them with a weir as the fish headed back to the Adriatic Sea from spawning in the fresh waters of river Bojana. They sent the catch north to be sold in Croatia's medieval town of Dubrovnik, when Croatia and Montenegro were both part of socialist Yugoslavia.

Such stories have long since become legend in the communities that live off this lake, which straddles the border of Montenegro and Albania.

Dams, construction, pollution and over-fishing have cut the lake's fish populations dramatically.

The sturgeon has been gone for decades, while the endangered European eel, the leaping mullet, thinlip mullet and twait shad are all at risk.

The use of fish weirs is banned in Montenegro, but the traps are permitted by Albania, where they are known as 'daljani' and have a history stretching back centuries.

But while authorities in Albania say the daljani are used in line with the law and cannot be blamed for falling stocks, fishermen in Montenegro say they are devastating the lake.

"The Albanians have cut off the lake; a fly can't get past," said Marko Masanovic, a member of the Professional Fishermen's Association of Ulcinj, a coastal town in southern Montenegro near the Albanian border.

"We have nothing this year: prawns, leerfish… nothing," he told the Centre for...

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