“I do not eat fish.” On this spring day, Klaus Hidde is sitting near the Olympic Stadium, cutting along his schnitzel with a knife. Ironically, Klaus Hidde, the last fisherman from Tiefwerder in Berlin-Spandau. He used to work for Commerzbank and went out on the fishing boat in the evenings. Since 2018 he has been taking care of Berlin’s plague: the crabs.
First in the Tiergarten, finally in the Glienicker See in Kladow, the popular bathing lake of the Berliners and Brandenburgers, through the middle of which the state border runs. The crabs are not actually native there, they probably descended from abandoned animals from aquarium keeping – and are now multiplying rapidly. Hidde fished 359 kilos of marble crabs from this lake alone last year – restaurateurs bought the meat, gourmets were delighted with the delicacy.
But Berlin’s crab fishermen caught up with their nets for the last time. “I’m no longer there this year. Others won the order from the Senate Administration,” he tells the Tagesspiegel newsletter for Spandau at the schnitzel. He asked for an interview, wrote letters, all in vain.
He’s disappointed, yes, says Hidde. “But at some point the business will no longer be worthwhile for us fishermen: the gastronomy and gourmets in Berlin want to buy live, fresh crabs and not dead ones, but those are the conditions now,” he says. “But you can’t get rid of dead crabs.”
For the last crabs in Lake Glienicke, he only got three to four euros per kilo from dealers, which is hardly worth it anymore. And even the gourmets are no longer what they used to be: “Some only make cooked fish stock from the dead crabs, that’s nothing.”
Even without Fischer Hidde, Berlin will continue the fight against invasive cancer this year. The fishing season starts on June 1st, said wildlife expert Derk Ehlert from the environmental administration of the German Press Agency. It is the fifth year in a row that a fisherman has received permission to take the animals.
Catch locations are the Tiergarten in Mitte and the Britzer Garten in Neukölln, said Ehlert. Marble crabs are not to be found there, but American swamp crabs, which are no less of a nuisance. Despite declining trends in catches in recent years, intervention remains necessary. The aim is to reduce the population of the invasive species and prevent it from spreading to other bodies of water.
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In the past few years, Fischer Hidde had caught hundreds of kilos of red crabs in the pots in the waters of the Tiergarten and Britzer Garten. That corresponds to several thousand pieces per year. According to Ehlert, there was an expression of interest procedure this year, so a new fisherman is now starting work.
According to a response from the environmental administration in February to a parliamentary question from CDU MP Danny Freymark, financial support of seven euros per kilo of crabs is possible for the fisherman, but not more than 5,000 euros in total.
The occurrence of the roughly palm-sized swamp crayfish went largely unnoticed in Berlin for a long time, until migratory swamp crayfish were sighted in the Tiergarten in August 2017. Since the lakes and watercourses there are connected to the Spree, new specimens can migrate there again and again, according to Ehlert. However, the Spree itself is only a transit area for the invasive species and not a suitable habitat.
[What you always wanted to know about crabs in Berlin’s waters: They are often a topic in our Spandau newsletter by André Görke. Get your free subscription here.]
According to the answer to the parliamentary question, the proven find sites also include the Landwehr Canal, Erpe and Spandau Canal. Marble crabs, like the ones Hidde got from Lake Glienicke, also cavort in the Schlachtensee and several other lakes in southwest Berlin. Hidde also wanted to get the crabs out of Grunewaldsee, “but I didn’t even start there,” he says.
The containment of the swamp crabs, which actually occur in the southern United States and northern Mexico, is necessary throughout the EU: the omnivores, which reproduce very quickly, are seen as a threat to native species and ecosystems. The animals are not caught over the winter, as they are largely inactive at low water temperatures and hidden at the bottom of the water.
Klaus Hidde has finished with the crabs for the time being. But he will continue to be drawn to the water. “I’m a fisherman, I want to fish properly and then I’d rather catch my eels in the Havel and smoke them in the oven,” he says. “I’m 68, my eyes aren’t feeling well. But I don’t want to sit around at home because the blanket falls on my head!”
And that’s why he keeps making plans. Hidde is currently evaluating whether it is worth offering a fish sandwich stand at the concerts in the citadel. “Even the doctors are playing there this summer,” says Hidde. “Fried fish, herb matjes and fish and chips are always a good choice. The only thing I don’t have anymore is crabmeat.”