KRCIN, Czech Republic — Czechs will have to pay more for their traditional Christmas delicacy this year after a serious drought devastated the carp population this year.
The drought overheated and dried out ponds, sucking oxygen from them and drastically reducing numbers of the fish in most parts of the Czech Republic.
But the situation was different in the southern Bohemia region near the border with Austria, which is considered a carp haven. The region also suffered from the drought, but a network of about 500 carp ponds interconnected with man-made canals ensured adequate living conditions for the fish.
As fishermen start the practice of catching carp for Christmas markets, here’s a look at the annual tradition and the effects the drought has had on it.
Carp being sold this year at Christmas markets will be more expensive, by up to 10 koruna ($0.44) per kilogram.
“A lack of water in the ponds was a key factor this autumn for the (increased) price,” said Josef Malecha, chief executive of Trebon Fisheries, a major fresh water fish producer in the country and the European Union.
The company estimates its fish production this year will be similar to previous years, about 3,200 metric tons (3,527 tons).
Carp account for more than 90 per cent of the catch. The rest include pike, catfish, pike perch, amur (grass carp) and tench. They are exported to many European countries.
The drought affected the ability of the fish to gain weight, Malecha said.
“So, we had to fix it by using more food (grain),” he said. “And the food was more expensive because the farmers suffered from the drought as well.”
The Czech Republic is a country of meat lovers that mostly overlook fish for the rest of the year, but nobody can imagine Christmas without carp.
Live carp are sold in street markets just before the holiday and turned into fish soup and fried in bread crumbs to serve on Christmas Eve.
Some lucky ones are given to children to play with in their bathtubs and are later released back into rivers or ponds.
While carp is derided in some parts of the world like Australia and the U.S. where the fish poses threats to native fish species and ecosystems.
But Czechs adore the carp, which is said to bring good fortune — but only if you keep some of their scales in your wallet.
It was freezing after dawn on a recent day when dozens of fishermen in dark green waterproofs wade into the frigid waters, using a centuries-old technique of slowly scooping fish up from the Krcin pond with nets before sorting them manually and placing them in containers.
About 70 metric tons (77 tons) of fish were expected to be extracted from the pond, which is named after Jakub Krcin, a key fish pond builder who was instrumental in completing the southern region’s waterway network during the second half of the 16th century.
“What has changed is that we are using some machines,” Malecha said. “So the manual labour has decreased. But it is still hard work for the men who have to work no matter what the weather is in the open air. But often some people envy the fisherman. It’s a job you can only do if you love it.”