As It Happens

Fish swim freely for 1st time in 106 years after defunct dam in Norway dismantled

After being blocked by a dam for more than a century, fish will soon be able to cruise the Tromsa River in Norway unimpeded — and it's all thanks to Tore Solbakken.

The dam was inactive for 50 years, but it took 5 years of campaigning to demolish it, says Tore Solbakken

Tore Solbakken poses with a brown trout — the species he says will benefit the most from having more space to swim. (Submitted by Tore Solbakken)

Story Transcript

Fish will soon be able to cruise the Tromsa River in Norway unimpeded after more than century — and it's largely thanks to one man. 

Tore Solbakken, who heads up Norwegian sports fishing club Gudbrandsdal Sportsfiskeforening, led the charge on dismantling the defunct dam that had been blocking the fish. 

"It's been a problem for the trout in the river," Solbakken told CBC As It Happens host Carol Off. "If you remove it, the fish can swim 10 kilometres [further] in the river." 

This week, he got his wish, looking on in excitement as demolition of the Tromsa dam was completed near the village of Fåvang, some 250 kilometres north of Oslo. Built in 1916, it had not produced hydroelectric power in about 50 years. 

It wasn't easy to get to this point.

Solbakken says he campaigned for five years to get the dam demolished, and had to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of funding from the Norwegian government.

Luckily, he says, Norway is a wealthy country and has a special fund earmarked for "removing dams and restoring rivers," which he was able to draw from. 

The Tromsa river flowing through the dam, mid-demolition. (Submitted by Tore Solbakken)

From there, Solbakken approached the elderly owner of the nine-metre-tall dam to explain what they wanted to do. 

"I think he thought I was crazy, because it's very expensive," he said. "He said to me that if you get the money, and it's not going to cost me money to remove it, then yeah, of course." 

Solbakken hopes the result of the demolition will be a restored riverscape and more abundant and healthy brown trout — a species beloved by fishers, which can weigh as much as 10 kilograms each. 

The Tromsa demolition is also in step with a wider trend in the continent to remove obsolete dams.

Dam Removal Europe, a project run by the World Fish Migration Foundation, says that nearly 5,000 have come down in Europe between 2000 and 2019.

"More and more countries are picking up the hammer now," Herman Wanningen, director of the World Fish Migration Foundation, said in an emailed statement.

"We have almost 150,000 old and obsolete dams in Europe," Winningen said. "[In] the next decades all European countries will have a great task ahead of them." 

Written by Kate McGillivray. Interview produced Niza Lyapa Nondo.

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