Don’t keep carp in bath, say officials as Xmas fish hits Czech streets

Czech minister of agriculture Marek Výborný

As at this time every year, stands have appeared around Czechia selling live carp, the traditional Christmas dinner staple. Though some Czechs keep a fish in the bath to kill themselves, officials say it is best to leave that task to the professionals.

A stand with carp at Prague square Tylovo náměstí | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

At a stand on the Prague square Tylovo náměstí on Thursday morning, one carp after the other was dispatched by a mallet to the head, followed by a knife to the throat.

With just days until Christmas, nearly 3,000 such stands – with adjacent large tanks of live fish – have sprung up in all corners of the country, including over 200 in Prague alone. After all, carp is the centre-piece of the traditional Czech Christmas Eve dinner.

Ensuring all of this takes place as hygienically and humanely as possible is the State Veterinary Administration, which says it inspects about one-quarter of all carp stands every year.

Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK

Speaking by the stall on Tylovo náměstí, the agency’s head, Zbyněk Semerád, has the following recommendation for would-be buyers.

“The best approach is to have it done by a professional. The carp should be removed from the tank using a net. It should then be grasped quickly and stunned with a mallet, before being bled out immediately. Then the handling is very simple, but still it should be carried out as quickly as possible.”

Minister Marek Výborný | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

Some regard the sale of live fish as cruel and the supermarket chain Lidl recently announced that it would only be selling processed carp this year.

However, the Czech minister of agriculture, Marek Výborný, says no legislative changes are planned in this regard.

“We have not considered, and we will not consider, banning the sale of live fish. In fact we would like to boost production and sales of fish in this country, where average consumption per head is only five to seven kilos annually. With freshwater fish it’s not even two kilos.”

The Pirate Party has, however, called for a change under which live fish would have to be killed by trained salespeople – it would no longer be possible to keep carp in the bath and kill it oneself, as some Czechs still do.

Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

Zbyněk Semerád of the State Veterinary Administration is also against the “bath” tradition.

“It’s bad. It’s most definitely not a natural environment for the carp, given the volume of water. That’s why it’s better to take it home and kill it as soon as possible, before putting it in the fridge or the freezer.

Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK

“This way, you know the carp was fresh, you know what you bought – and you know what you will consume.”

Minister Výborný also cautions against another practice, albeit rather less common, of buying a carp and releasing it back “into the wild”. This only harm the fish, he says.

Author: Ian Willoughby
run audio