The fishing trade is dying out

Pike, zander, whitefish or perch – all these fish can be caught in the lakes of the district. Other species can also be fished out of the water here, and the rare arctic char are considered particularly delicious. Fish has always been eaten with pleasure in the Five Lakes Region, preferably fresh from the lake or at least from a regional fish farm. However, fishermen have few offspring. During the two-week examination of the Institute for Fisheries of the Bavarian State Institute for Agriculture in Starnberg, 29 new fish farmers successfully passed their examination and received their certificates. The institute in Starnberg is the largest of only three fishing schools in Germany where you can earn this degree. In 2020, 63 graduates completed their training throughout Germany. But the trend is downward.

The lack of water also threatens fish farming

Two of this year’s 29 graduates have their training company in Rhineland-Palatinate, one in Hesse, one in Austria and two in Switzerland. The other 25 were trained in all corners of Bavaria. The new fishermen and pond keepers – who take care of artificial fish farms – are facing major challenges: changing consumer behavior, competition from big industry, climate change. And then there was the environmental disaster on the Oder recently, which led to mass deaths in the river and robbed some fishermen of their livelihoods. The summer drought also has consequences for the guild: lake and groundwater levels have dropped considerably in the district.

Karl-Christian Rincke is one of the 29 new fishermen who passed his exam in July after three years of training. The future worries the young man. “With a view to climate change, where we are moving is a dangerous thing,” says Rincke. “I’m afraid of it, there’s a lack of water everywhere.” The lack of water is making it particularly difficult for his industry, which is so existentially dependent on the resource. However, Rincke still believes in being able to make a living from fishing in the future.

Michael Schubert, deputy head of the Starnberg Fishery Institute, also sees major challenges that young people need to overcome. One of them: the right marketing. “In the past, the fresh catch was sold right on the side of the road until the box was empty,” says Schubert. Today you first have to fillet the fish yourself, then smoke them in order to finally be able to sell them to customers in various farm shops at fair prices. This means a lot more work for the fishermen.

During the pandemic, people’s awareness of regional products and their willingness to pay for them increased, says Rincke. This gives him hope that the fishing industry can continue to make money. There are also new technologies these days. Aquaculture and water cycles make fish farming much more efficient and resource-saving. This is essential, especially because of the lack of water. “More needs to happen indoors,” agrees Schubert, the deputy head of the institute.

Fishery School in Starnberg: Water cycles and aquaculture: Scientists from Dartmouth College are researching what indoor fish farming could look like in the future.

Water cycles and aquaculture: Scientists from Dartmouth College are researching what indoor fish farming could look like in the future.

(Photo: Devin S. Fitzgerald/picture alliance/dpa)

Karl-Christian Rincke does not shy away from the hard work involved in fishing. In the high season in winter you have to work 12 to 13 hours to make ends meet. “It’s easier to earn money elsewhere,” agrees Schubert. But that’s not what young fisherman Rincke is about. Tradition is important to him. He is also proud of his craft, which has now become something special: nationwide, only 60 trainees chose Rincke’s profession in 2021. “When I say that I’m a fisherman, many people stare,” says Rincke.

After completing his training in Starnberg, the young fish farmer will return to his homeland in Saxony in September, where he wants to work in a local fish farm. In two years’ time, it’s time to go back to Starnberg for the master’s degree. After that, the native of Saxony wants to become self-employed at some point. However, money is first saved and experience is gained. Rincke, in particular, considers the latter to be particularly important. Despite all the challenges, he remains optimistic: “In my opinion, you have a future in this job, you just have to do it right.”

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