Floods hurt the fishing business

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At this time of the year fishermen across the country drain their ponds and lakes for the big haul. The annual netting of fish is a popular event which many locals like to attend, sipping tea laced with rum as they watch the fishermen go about their work. However due to the August floods, which swept the fish right out of pond basins, "netting" in many parts of north and south Bohemia is a sorry sight, with fisherman pulling out half empty nets. How have the floods affected Czech fisheries -and how long will it take for them to get back on their feet? Find out more in this week's Magazine.

At this time of year fishermen across the Czech Republic drain their carp ponds and lakes for the annual haul. Although fish is not a common dish in this country - carp is an exception. In the smaller towns and villages the "netting of fish" is something most locals come out to watch, sipping hot tea laced with rum as they watch the haul come in. Some of the fresh carp is usually sold on the spot and TV crews make an appearance for a close up of the nation's Xmas dinner - fried carp in breadcrumbs - at this stage still writhing in the nets. Once the local fisheries see the haul they are able to say whether the public will have to fork out more for a pound of carp than they did the previous year. This year however netting in some parts of the country is a sorry sight - a reminder that the cost of the devastating August floods that swept across the Czech Republic is still mounting. In most of the effected regions the surging waters swept the fish right out of the basins. In any case now fishermen in many parts of north and south Bohemia are dragging out half-empty nets. Josef Malecha of the Trebon fisheries says that things don't look good.

"The August floodwaters swept much of this year's catch right out of our ponds and into the river Luznice. The water not only took fish that were intended for this year's market - fish that had been bred for the past 4 years - but also the fry that was to have secured our business for the next two years. We shall have to replace it - but because so many fisheries are in the same plight - there's currently a lack of fry on the market. Some of it we hope to obtain abroad. And basically we are going to have to start again - which will undermine our business in the coming years. Some fish grow quicker - but it will take time before we "stock up" on carp again - which people buy more than anything else."

A considerable amount of this year's catch has been lost but what is worse - the annual draining of ponds has revealed structural damage amounting to millions of crowns. Josef Malecha says that time is an important factor in the struggle to save what they can.

"At this time of year half of our annual haul is in storage, and by then we know where we stand, how good a year it has been. But the floods and the heavy rainfall that we've had since have changed all that. Rivers are still swollen, the earth is saturated with rainwater. In some places it's not even possible to drain ponds. The whole process has been delayed by three to four weeks. Which means that we will be working in adverse weather conditions through November and possibly even December to save what we can and repair structural damage to the ponds. The sooner we repair the ponds - the sooner we can introduce new fry and start anew. But in some places it's obvious that this won't happen before next spring."

The Trebon fisheries alone report structural damage to ponds amounting to 60 million crowns. The overall damage to fisheries across the country has been put at 500 million crowns but the agriculture ministry is expecting the cost to climb to one billion. It expects to cover 20 to 25 % of the losses. But fishermen have yet to see that money and for the time being they are using various reserves to mend what they can before the onset of winter. Many are negotiating with their local councils about immediate financial aid. Josef Malecha again:

"We are working to resolve these problems with the mayor of Trebon and the mayors of other nearby towns because it is in everyone's interest that these ponds and lakes be made secure -indeed that they be made more secure than ever before in view of possible future floods. Some changes in landscape may have to be undertaken but we shall get to that sometime next spring when we have solved our immediate problems. In any case I think that as far as the big, costly projects are concerned we should get state funds because the system of manmade ponds and lakes in the region did help in the flood crisis. The ponds took in a great deal of excess water which might otherwise have caused even more damage to dwellings in the vicinity. So it's in everyone's interest to see them restored. "

What do you serve the most VIP company the country has ever had to dinner? In less than a month's time world presidents and prime ministers will be rubbing shoulders at Prague Castle. The upcoming NATO summit is not just about global security interests. It will also be about socializing and good food and the summit organizers are gradually revealing scraps of information about what's in store for world leaders and what they can expect to sample at President Havel' s candle-lit dinner table. A dinner for 750 guests -including some 50 heads of state- will include venison steaks in cream laced with cranberry sauce and a dessert of forest fruit. The visiting foreign dignitaries will be served the best that Moravian wine cellars have to offer, followed by a night at the opera. In the meantime hundreds of chefs, waiters and drivers are busy not only honing their skills - but filling in dozens of questionnaires to be scrutinized by the country's intelligence service. The questions include "What is the state of your bank account?", "Do you have a clean criminal record?" and " Have you ever had a drink problem ?". The organizers say that all the dishes will be cooked under close supervision - but there is no mention of food tasters. Of course, things like that need to be kept top secret -otherwise, what's the point?.

And finally, one of the crucial debates underway in the Czech Republic concerns packaged doughnuts. A newly introduced regulation according to which halved bread, doughnuts, pies and other pastry must be sold packaged has divided the nation. Some people appreciate the new hygiene regulation others say that the need to package everything is ridiculous. They claim that packaged doughnuts do not smell or taste like fresh ones - nor do any of the other products, for that matter. The new regulation was introduced at the beginning of August on the grounds that it is allegedly an EU norm which the Czech Republic must accept if it wants to join the EU. As with most other things that stir public emotions, this quickly became an issue of political dispute. The Civic Democrats called it " a violation of basic human rights" and treated it as confirmation of future intervention from Brussels into the country's internal affairs. The communists, who are not yet sure whether the country's accession to the EU is something they want to approve, also expressed the view that things weren't going right with the Czech Republic if we were no longer free to decide how we wanted to buy our doughnuts. The furore evoked plenty of raised eyebrows in Brussels which hastened to explain that it made no such demand on the Czech authorities and that officials in Brussels do not interfere with how individual member states meet basic hygiene requirements. In other words, if customers in the Czech Republic were taking home squashed and unappetizing doughnuts packaged in plastic that was their own affair, customers in Brussels were still buying hot waffles and pancakes in a simple paper napkin. So why have the Prague authorities gone over the top with an instruction that not many people like -and that will delay the arrival of fresh products on the shelves? Health minister Marie Souckova, who initiated the new regulation, is convinced that from a medical point of view it is highly desirable since it will limit the transfer or germs and other infections and she is refusing to consider its withdrawal. Not all shops have yet complied with the new regulation and hygiene inspectors are making the rounds - to make sure that by the end of the year everything is as it should be. There is just one thing that nobody seems to be able to work out - why must half a loaf of bread be packaged when the same does not apply to a whole loaf? There must be some explanation for that - but until we know - if you want to stay germ-free in Prague - buy your bread by the half-loaf!