Salmon in the City: Fish Return to Paris River

Christine Dell'Amore
National Geographic News
August 24, 2009

Parisian salmon are perhaps better known for swimming in a chef's red-wine sauce than in the Seine.

Not anymore. The wide-ranging fish have returned to the French capital's iconic river, officials say.

This year at least a thousand Atlantic salmon passed through Paris along their migratory run—exceeding "anything we could imagine," Bernard Breton, secretary general of France's National Federation of Fishing, said via email.

The Seine once had a robust population of the fish. But pollution that began in the late 1800s killed most of them off, and today salmon are on the European Union's endangered species list.

After a 25-year effort to cleanse the toxic river, its waters are again attracting the fish, which begin their annual journey about 93 miles (150 kilometers) away in the Atlantic Ocean.

"Great Surprise"

Salmon had disappeared from the Seine by 1900, and most fish species saw a similar demise by 1920. Before 1995 between 300 and 500 tons of fish, including salmon, were dying each year in the river, Breton said.

By 1995 only five species of fish—hardy species such as carp and eel—called Paris home.

Now, thanks to the cleanup, 32 species of fish live in the Seine. The reappearance of Atlantic salmon is the most important "living proof" that the water has gotten cleaner, Breton said.

(Related: "Rare Seahorses Found in River Thames.")

"It is a great surprise to have the [Parisian] run of wild Atlantic salmon bump up so noticeably," Sue Scott, a spokesperson for the New Brunswick-based Atlantic Salmon Federation, said in an email. "Especially since France is in the Atlantic salmon's southern range, where they are in the most decline.

"This gives hope to the endangered [North American] populations in southern Canada and in Maine and Connecticut. "

Streetfishers

The City of Light's fish renaissance has appealed to catch-and-release fishers in Paris, also called streetfishers.

These enthusiasts—who cast their lines near famous Parisian landmarks—are becoming more in vogue, according to the French federation.

Since the Seine's water has improved, some streetfishers have reported snagging carp bigger than 66 pounds (30 kilograms).

And though Atlantic salmon aren't plentiful enough to appear on the menu du jour of any Parisian bistro just yet, "it's a dream," Breton, the secretary general, said.

"Perhaps in ten years," he said, "it will be possible to eat a salmon [caught] near Notre Dame or [the] Eiffel Tower."

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