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Oder River fish die-off hurts regional tourism

Deutsche Welle 8/25/2022 Lisa Stüve, Deutsche Welle
Tons of fish have been recovered along the river since the die-offs started in July. © Cezary Aszkielowicz/Agencja Tons of fish have been recovered along the river since the die-offs started in July.

Fishing and canoeing are prohibited for now. Those impacted are hoping for quick answers and a speedy recovery. DW's Lisa Stüve reports.Oder River flows smoothly, quietly -- it's a picturesque scene. Yet canoeists and anglers, who are usually out and about, are nowhere to be seen. I'm walking along the river with Andreas Hein and Ingo Kaphus, rangers of the Lower Oder Valley National Park. "If you didn't know what has happened here, you would think everything is normal. The smell has vanished, too," Hein tells me. "Until a few days ago, the river was covered with dead fish."

Things seem almost normal here after the huge environmental disaster that caused a massive fish die-off. The story dominated headlines for days. Now, gray geese are resting on the floodplains, and a family of storks is flying overhead. Things could not seem more peaceful. Plenty of tourists are also cycling along idyllic the Oder-Neisse cycle path.

Oder River tourism takes a hit after fish die-off

The rangers tell me it is too early to tell what impact the catastrophe will have in the long term. They hope that people will not be deterred by the disaster and keep visiting the region.

Tons of dead fish have been recovered from the river since the beginning of August. The exact cause for the die-off is still unclear. One possible explanation is that the spread of a toxic algae caused the fish and mollusks to die.

The ecosystem will probably need years to regenerate. No less hard hit have been the people of the region, especially those who make their living in the tourist industry. Companies renting out canoes are under pressure, fishing is currently out of the question, and the number of overnight stays has plummeted. The owner of the ice cream store in Criewen, however, has no complaints. Business is good, she tells me.

Cyclists keep coming

With the two national park rangers, I head for the nearby observation tower, which is popular with cyclists. "It's quieter than usual, even though it's Sunday," says Andreas. Climbing back down, I meet Nathalie and Thomas from Berlin, who are just locking up their bikes. They are aware of the environmental disaster, but that didn't stop them from coming here for a bike tour. "Though we don't want to swim here," says Thomas.

Tour operators face uncertain future

Today, nobody is using Frauke Bennett's canoeing equipment. Instead, paddles, safety buoys and life jackets lie in her VW bus, with her dog Babett watching over them. The canoe guide would normally be out and about with one of her groups today, exploring the river. "But when this disaster made the news, I canceled all pre-booked tours. Until I know what's in that river, I'm not going to dip a toe in there," says Bennett. She is bracing herself for tough times ahead and fears that without financial assiance, tour operators could go out of business.

People have lost their appetite for fish

Fisherman Helmut Zahn from Schwedt also fears serious consequences for tourism and the fish trade. "In 40 years, I have never experienced a catastrophe of this magnitude," he tells me as we sit in his garden directly on a tributary of river Oder. Before the disaster, Helmut Zahn sold fresh fish to restaurants and smoked fish at regional markets. Naturally, demand has evaporated.

"Even if the fish is eventually declared safe -- it still doesn't bode well for fish sales," he tells me. He says the die-off seriously damaged the region's reputation, though he maintains optimistic nonetheless: "Not all the fish in the Oder have died, there must still be a lot of little ones in there."

Everyone is hoping that the cause of catastrophe will soon be identified and addressed. Many here, however, worry the disaster could deter tourists from visiting the region in the long run. Only time will tell.

This article was translated from German.

Copyright 2022 DW.COM, Deutsche Welle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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