“My name is Uwe Krüger. I’m a sixth-generation Ahlbecker fisherman. From being a little boy to becoming an older man, I’ve experienced everything here on the beach. We opened our fishing hut 28 years ago – it’s called Uwe’s Fischerhütte. It’s a small restaurant where and we catch the fish ourselves.”
Both sides of Uwe’s family come from fishing families, going back generations. It was his grandfather that introduced him to the craft.
“When I was five, I started going out fishing with my grandfather and enjoyed the sea air. I can still remember the smell of the fish we caught as children. Whenever we fish for European smelt or have one in a net, it makes me remember my grandfather and my childhood.”
People like Uwe are a dying breed. The beaches used to be filled with fishermen. But when we joined them in July at four in the morning, they were the only ones preparing to head out to sea.
“The fishing grounds we went to today are all spots we go to at the same time every year as part of a long tradition. Our ancestors fished for flounder as well as herring here.”
Today the catch is exclusively flounder, destined for the restaurant, the local market, and other shops. Shelves look nicely stocked, but as always, appearances can be deceiving.
“The catch today was, unfortunately, not as good as we had hoped. That’s how it is with fishing. But we’re satisfied with every catch. If you can live on what you’ve got at the end of the month, then that’s a great thing.”
But Uwe says that lately, fishing families haven’t been able to live on what they’re catching, his included.
“Due to the quota regulation from the European Union, things haven’t been easy at the fishery. It’s actually no longer possible to
survive through fishing alone. We can no longer feed our families on the quotas we have now.”
For Uwe, it’s not just about feeding families. It’s about keeping the tradition alive. And it’s no easy feat to recruit a new generation when it’s already hard to make a living.
“It’s a real shame that this tradition is now coming to an end. There were once 200 fishermen in Ahlbeck alone. Today, there’s a total of 210 in the whole of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.”
Shortly after our visit, the EU released proposed quotas for 2019. Uwe stands to see a 63 percent reduction in the amount of herring he can fish. These stricter regulations are in place to foster sustainable habitats. To be fair, it seems to be working. Herring populations have been growing in the Baltic Sea, but the scientific community also says that the habitat needs to grow even more to ensure it doesn’t collapse. It’s a message that doesn’t seem to have been communicated to Uwe.
“As I’ve said many times already, [the EU] needs to talk to the fishermen. They need to talk to us, the small coastal fisheries, the beach fisheries, the few fishermen who are still here, we’re not going to fish the seas dry. That’s not possible. You need to hold the big vessels back a bit, slow them down. But us, as small beach fishermen and cutters and inshore fisheries, that operate in the water near the shores, we’re not overfishing the waters. Not a chance. But no one listens to us, and no one comes to talk to us about it.”
The winter months are coming, and with ice, it can mean up three months of no work for Uwe’s fishing crew. Less food for the family, for the restaurant, and for the market. But he’ll be ready as soon as the weather clears.
“During the winter months, if there are three months of ice, you get restless as a fisherman. Every day you stand here on the dunes and just want to be back on a boat, on the water again.”
That’s what Uwe and his kind were born to do – be out on the water with the sunrise, providing for their families, being fishermen.
“We don’t want to do anything else, and it means a lot that we can explain to visitors on holiday what the fish is, what you can do with it. My hope is that I can somehow hold on to all this. That I can somehow preserve it for the next generation.”
Looking for more Germany? Check out the Germany off the beaten path travel guide, my top things to do in Germany, German language tips, and how to ride the German train system. Want something more literary? Read chapters from my upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany and finding my roots — There Must Be Order.