Large-scale inventory confirms Europe’s rarest fish still swims in Romanian mountain river

After local environmentalists managed to film harshness About two years ago, a recent large-scale inventory confirmed that the rarest fish in Europe still survives in Romania. A team of experts detected the presence of 58 fish last week, which is much higher than official estimates and could mean that hundreds of them are still swimming the Vâlsan River in the mountains of Făgăraș – the rough last little house.

The asprete (Romanichthys valsanicola) is a living fossil fish that is believed to have lived around the same time as the last dinosaurs. This means that the species could be 65 million years old. But today it needs help to survive, as its range has drastically shrunk to just a small part of the Vâlsan River in Romania.

The local non-profit Alex Găvan Foundation is on a mission to save the harshness of extinction. As part of a larger project carried out in partnership with Fauna & Flora International, a team of specialists spent the week of October 10 to 16 on the Vâlsan river for the largest inventory action of the species carried out since its discovered in 1956. compiled a record of 21 scientific fishing stations in the river and identified fish at 14 of them. A total of 58 have been confirmed – the highest number to date, but still not enough to put the species out of danger.

“Since the mid-1960s, there have not been so many harshness have been identified, with the highest number to date being 12 found in the early 2000s. There were also years when the harshness was considered completely extinct. According to the latest official estimates from the Ministry of the Environment, the population of harshness would only count between 10 and 15 specimens”, said Alex Găvan, leading mountaineer and conservationist and founder of the Alex Găvan Foundation.

Photo credit: Alex Gavan

Based on the results of the recent inventory, specialists estimate that the total harshness the population currently numbers “a few hundred specimens”. This is good news for the genetic diversity of the species, especially since the project also includes a captive breeding program, but still a small number for it to survive. “Even so, at the moment the species remains critically endangered,” Găvan said.

Other good news, the specialists succeeded in detecting the harshness over 15 km between the cities of Brădetu and Vâlsănești – triples the estimated habitat of only 5 km but not even a quarter of the total length of the river of about 80 km. Again, the glass is only half full, as the species needs a larger area to thrive.

“From the start, we worked to improve the living conditions of harshness. In the meantime, we have managed to stop much of the destruction on Vâlsan, such as cutting vegetation on the banks or stealing rocks from the river. In addition, our actions have contributed to reducing the intensity of pollution factors and the water flow of the river has almost returned to its optimal value – a problem that we are working to solve completely”, explained Alex Găvan.

Valley of Valsan
Photo credit: Alex Gavan

During the same action last week, the team also conducted exploratory fishing in several rivers in the Argeș basin to identify other potential habitats where the harshness could live and other areas in need of ecological reconstruction. Team members also collected samples to use for future scientific studies needed to determine the best next steps to save Romania’s living fossil fish.

The harshness the inventory operation, carried out with the support of the MBZ Species Conservation Fund, is part of Asprete Lives (Aspretele Trăiește), a vast project aimed at conserving the species and saving it from extinction. The initiative is divided into four pillars and includes the creation of a research and captive breeding base on the banks of the Vâlsan River, the ecological reconstruction of the region’s waterways and the involvement of the authorities of the state and local community in saving and preserving the habitat of this extremely rare fish. More details are available here.

(Opening photo: l’asprete; photo by Alex Gavan)