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Richard Vibert The Daddy of the “small box”

All fishermen know a little a bout Richard Vibert, but most of the time without knowing. Vibert, Vibert… ? Like the box? Wow! Is it really because of this curious small transparent plastic box, with many holes, that all French fishermen and most foreign fisherman have heard of Richard Vibert .


All fishermen know a little a bout Richard Vibert, but most of the time without knowing. Vibert, Vibert… ? Like the box? Wow! Is it really because of this curious small transparent plastic box, with many holes, that all French fishermen and most foreign fisherman have heard of Richard Vibert .

It is almost by chance that Richard Vibert headed towards what would become for him his job and true passion; ecology and the managment of rivers and fishing. On the advice of his uncle, but also “to work outdoors a little” Richard Vibert, with his baccalaureat, chose the “Eaux et Forêts” (Waters and Forests Institute) to study at. After doing brilliantly in school, his first job, in Bourg -en-Bresse ; in 1936, would very much influence his future career. He was in charge of the construction of the fisheries building. The bulding done, he had to organize the fishery and run it. Richard Vibert desired that the restocking of trout be done with fry that were as wild as possible. He decided to capture wild parent stock. So with his team, he went on an “expedition”, in winter, to the tributaries of the Ain river. This episode is without any doubt the departure point of Richards passion and tie to the aquatic environment which progressed throughout his life.

A very special team
After one year of war, he changed track and left for a new position in Oloron, in the Béarn. He was only in charge of the river system. He caught on immediately that salmon had a problem. At that time more salmon swam up the Oloron river than today! Richard Vibert likes to tell the story that “one day they found a salmon of 17kg in a net”… The arrival of salmon, relatively plentiful yet, excited the greed of the valley inhabitants, who fished to sell them. Poachers were very numerous, particurlarly in Autumn, during the spawning period, when salmons are concentrated in one area of to spawn. To understand the problem, you must know that the salmon fishing represented after the war, when the standard of living was low, a very important source of income. To catch poachers Richard Vibert put together a group of game wardens.

No salmon for Vincent Auriol !
Even if it was not part of his job, Richard Vibert could only condemn illegal acts because strictness and uprightness were the two qualities which characterized him. One anecdote shows, better than a long diatribe Vibert’s integrity. Auriol, the President of the French Republic was to visit the region. A civil servant in charge of managing this visit, asked Richard Vibert to furnish him with salmon for the presidents dinner. As the salmon fishing season was closed, Vibert refused and required a written order from the civil servant. This order never came. Vincent Auriol, having heard what transpired said : “I am the first civil servant of the State, I have to set a good the example”.


Richard Vibert et Huguette Bouchardeau
Richard Vibert was named Commander of the National Order of Merit the 20th of November 1985 by the minister of the Environement at that time, Huguette Bouchardeau
.

A box with holes
Yet at this point in time, the return of salmon decreased. To find a solution, Vibert used the Lees-Atha fishery to breed salmon. Besides, wishing to use fry egg embryos, which seemed to produce good results with Pacific Salmon, he started to work to improve the most used fish breeding tool at the time called the Harrisson box. Finally he realised that a small box bored with many holes to allow eggs to be irrigated worked. These perforations were narrow enough to retain eggs, but large enough to let growing fry out after hatching. This was the birth of the Vibert box, first used in 1950. Currently used today by fisheries managers, more than one million of them have been produced. They also give birth to some similar apparatus such as the Whitlock Vibert box in the US, which is larger and the Calderon box in Spain, a pure copy of the Vibert box. In the Oloraon River, capture of parent stock was done during their time of reproduction and the eggs mixed with sperm, were immediately placed in the boxes and put under gravel for a long incubation period.

Richard et Jean-Claude Vibert
(Richard Vibert & his son Jean-Claude Vibert)

« My father belongs to a engineering family »Anne the youngest daughter of Richard Vibert likes to say. It is true that Richard’s father Claude-CharlesVibert, born in 1876, was an engineer who graduated from the “Centrale School of Engineering” and he built the first Féron Vibert cars. Fifty examples of theses luxurious cars were built between 1905 and 1907. His three sons were all engineers in different areas. It is on the advice of an uncle that Richard chose “les Eaux et Forêts” (Water and Forests) school, to rapidly dedicate himself to the conservation of waterways and fish, and particularly trout and salmon.


The Kerguelen Isles

« In 1958, Richard Vibert goes to the Kerguelen isles with his boxes full of trout and salmon eggs…»

Thanks to this invention, Ricahrd Vibert gets an international reputation,. He is invited to foreign countries as a guest, particularly to Canada with which he will keep excellent ties. At the end of the 50’s the experience that he is most famous for happened. The Kerguelen isles (A French possession near Australia ) don’t have a lot of rivers and lakes , all without fishs, and seemingly favourable to sustaining salmon. It is decided to try and seed the local rivers with salmon.. A fist attempt fails in 1957, and the next year it was Richard Vibert personally who arrived with his boxes full of trout and salmon eggs…

 

incubation des oeufs
At the extreme rigtht of the photo, Richard Vibert is surveying the incubation of salmon eggs in breeding tanks at Bidarray. The scene is in 1948

 

brigade mobile de garde-peche
The guard post of spawning area at Légugnon. As soons as he arrives at Oloron Riahard Vibert fights against the poachers by creating a mobile fish warden team. On the roof of the car, the canoe used to go down the river… silently !

 

capture des geniteurs
In theses spawning areas were the captured breeding stock whose eggs and sperm were stolen.

Président of l'Aidsa
This time, the introduction was a success and yet today, trout of several kilos, issued from stock of the pioneers of 1958 , still swim up the Keruelen rivers. Although closely associated with rivers and fish, Richard Vibert will never be a real fisherman, because of an accident to his right hand. The life of Richard Vibert was a truly life of passion, but also of work. The last vacation taken by this work-a-holic was in 1944, thirty years before he fully retired. “ During The week-end,narrate his children, he always had something to do and we joined him. It was very often visiting fisheries, but sometimes something related to his passion. He never stopped”. Yet, the inevitable happened and the hour of retirement rang. He then retired to the Basque country for a well deserved rest. Due to luck or fate, fish had not decided to leave him in peace. René Richard who, in 1973 founded AIDSA (International Association of Atlantic Salmon Defence) offered him the presidency of the organization. The defence and the protection of an animal with which he had such a close link for many years was a privelege to Richard Vibert who got the job of “Mister Salmon”, as he is was affectionately called by his children and his cousins, He stayed on for seven years as the Head Of Aidsa to which he devoted the most of his working days. Today, at 94 years old, Richard Vibert passes quiet days on the bank of the Atlantic, two steps from the Béarn and the Oloron river.

Marc Delacoste
Extract of « La Pêche et les Poissons » April 2001

 

 

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