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Living Planet

Upperlusatia: Fishing into the Future

The Biosphere Reserve Upperlusatia covers the largest pond region in Germany, with an 800-year tradition of fish farming. The fishing industry here has come a long way and this success is in part because of the reserve.


Carp fishing is the main livelihood in the Upperlusatia reserve.

Since its privatization following the collapse of East Germany, the fishing industry in the Upperlusatia region has progressed significantly. It has cleaned up its act and has developed a much greater environmental awareness.

That today’s companies pride themselves in their natural fish farming methods is in part the success of the Biosphere Reserve Upperlusatia Heath and Pond Landscape, situated in the eastern state of Saxony close to the Polish border.

The fishermen in this region have discovered that the status of the reserve is a useful marketing tool. They use it to prove that their fish, mainly carp, are a quality product. "We have developed a way to raise carp as naturally as possible. That means the fish can find everything they need in the ponds, we add only very little feed," says Arnulf Rolli from the Kreba Fish company.

"So, it’s not like it was 20 years ago, when the fish were fattened artificially with pellets and all sorts of additives," he adds. "The fish today grow naturally, we just add some vitamins to make them more resistant to illnesses and parasites."

Both the fishermen and the biosphere reserve know they benefit from working together. Not only can the fishermen lay claim to a much better product, they also receive financial rewards for their contribution to the environment. By switching to a more natural form of fish farming, they’re helping to create a more balanced ecosystem.

A wise investment

For Peter Heyne, head of the biosphere reserve, such subsidies are a good investment. Since the reserve was founded in 1994, compensating the fishermen for keeping less fish and protecting their ponds has paid off. Since they keep only a third of the number of fish they used to during the communist era, the water quality in the whole region has improved dramatically.

Luschk-Teich - Spreewiese

Oberlausitzer Heide- und Teichlandschaft

"The canals and rivers here were so dirty; there were hardly any fish left in them," Heyne says. "We had such a high level of intensive fish farming in these ponds that there were hardly any water plants left."

The ponds were so cramped with fish, there wasn’t enough oxygen in the water, he recalls. "They had to pump oxygen into the ponds like into an aquarium. They changed the landscape to make it suit their technology. We’ve been able to revise that."

Protecting the cultural landscape

The goal of the biosphere reserve is to protect this cultural landscape -- a landscape that has been developed over centuries. Most of the ponds in the reserve are man-made. Many of them date back to the middle ages. Carp was already farmed here in the 13th century and sold mainly to the court of Saxony.

In those days, it was a highly lucrative business, because it was impossible to buy seafood this far away from the coast. With just 200 kilos of fish per hectare per year, the fish farmers then were able to preserve this pond landscape like a paradise.

UNESCO Biosphärenreservat Oberlausitz

Oberlausitzer Heide- und Teichlandschaft

Even with today’s subsidies, three times that much yield is needed for the industry to survive. The challenge for Heyne and his staff has been to find a way to make the industry both economically and environmental sustainable.

"We carried out some research on how to optimize the yield, how we could achieve our goal of preserving both the landscape and the traditional industry," Heyne says. "We found that we must structure the pond landscape in a way that we have some ponds where we allow intensive fish farming. But we also have others, where there are less fish and where we allow no additional feed."

The reserve also has ponds, which are not used commercially at all, which are purely a refuge for wildlife. "This strategy has worked very well in recent years."

Creating awareness

Part of the biosphere’s mission is to try and create more awareness of the need to preserve natural landscapes. For many years, in this part of eastern Germany, people had no relationship to the environment they lived in.

During the communist period, the region’s chemical and coal-mining industries showed little regard for nature. Heyne remembers that one could tell the direction the wind was blowing by the color of the ponds. The water was often covered in black soot from nearby coalmines and power plants.

Natur-Markt Wartha

Oberlausitzer Heide- und Teichlandschaft

Those dirty industries have now gone, but so too have thousands of jobs. Heyne knows that to secure public support for the reserve and its goals, environmental protection mustn’t be seen to stand in the way of economic development.

"We’ve proven that the underlying principle of the biosphere reserve is true," he says. "It is possible to harmonize business and environmental interests. The word has started to spread throughout Germany that the region has become more attractive since we’ve been taking care of the environment. More and more tourists are coming here. And local communities have started to include us in their urban planning decisions."

Heyne is optimistic that the success of the fishing industry and the growth of tourism will make the people of Upperlusatia develop a new relationship to the environment they live in. The prouder they feel about the beautiful landscape around them, the more they’ll care about preserving it.

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