The One that Got Away

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Dam removal in America receives a great amount of attention these days, thanks in no small part to a growing group of activists, filmmakers and other advocates that have been fighting to free rivers all across the country from the negative impacts of dams. Concerns about the impact of hydroelectric dams and other similar projects aren't only being raised here in the United States, however. In Europe, many of the same battles are being waged, with varying levels of success. The One that Got Away, a documentary film out of Austria, details the efforts led by a group of anglers, scientists and others that share a passion for the Mur River and its Huchen (or Danube Salmon), a threatened member of the salmon family that grows to impressive size.

Similar in appearance to the Mongolian Taimen, the Huchen is endangered throughout its limited range. The Huchen has been in sharp decline for the past 100 years, due mostly to habitat destruction and fragmentation. According to the IUCN list of threatened and endangered species, "The main current threat to the species is the flow regulation from hydropower dams which impact the species, and their prey's, habitat and pollution. Documented self-sustaining populations are very few."

Huchen in Slovenia
Ákos Szmutni fights a small Huchen on a river in Slovenia (photo: Peter Bartha).

The Mur, which originates in the Alps near Salzburg, and its Huchen are a surprising success story. Despite being considered one of the dirtiest rivers in all of Europe after World War II, hard fought clean-up efforts have restored the Mur's water quality over the last half century. Today the Mur is dammed or otherwise has its flows artificially regulated over the vast majority of its course. And yet its Huchen persist. The Mur is one of the few remaining rivers that holds a self-sustaining population of Huchen.

Today, Huchen of the Mur continue to be threatened by seemingly ever-encroaching hydropower construction. Newly proposed hydropower projects would irreparably damage one of the last free flowing stretches -- which runs through the Styrian capital Graz -- where the Mur's naturally reproducing population of Danube salmon survive.

The One that Got Away documents the Mur's history, its importance to the people of Graz and the story of those that are fighting to preserve what wild portions of the Mur remain. It is available for free viewing, in English on Vimeo (and also below).