For centuries, people living along the Rhine have lived off fishing. The fisher folk set out in their boats and laid out their nets and fish traps. They caught pike, salmon, perch, trout, wels catfish, zander (or pike perch), sturgeon, and above all, eels. They exploited the strong boundary flow –the current in the water close to the banks – to move downriver. Since eels only travel at night, eel fishers worked mainly during the hours of darkness.
The next morning, locals were able to buy the catch fresh from the boats – or at Emmerich’s fish market. The wall painting on the entrance wall gives you an idea of the bustling Alter Markt – the old marketplace, where the fish market was held.
But though fishing on the Rhine was widespread, no special type of vessel ever became dominant. Many different types of boats were in use, from small rowing boats via the single-masted, specialist eel-fishing boats called Aalschokker, to the many low draught coastal vessels known as Fischereibotter. The boats all shared one important feature: they were flat-bottomed, so they could pass over any nets they had laid out.
The types of nets were equally varied. Depending on the current, the depth of the water and the expected catch, the fishers deployed seines (or drag nets), cast-nets, gillnets, lift nets or umbrella drop nets.
However, the discharge of industrial effluents into the Rhine devastated fish stocks and led to the collapse of fishing in the Rhine. From the mid-20th century on, the centuries-old trade of the Rhine fisher disappeared. The quality of the river water has improved somewhat in the meantime, and some fish species have returned. But sturgeon and wels catfish, for example, are still absent from their former habitat.
At our next stop, we’ll be finding out about the various transport routes around Emmerich. Do you see the stuffed pike above the doorway? Please head through there into the next room.
Foto: © Claudia Klein