It is one of the roughest rescues in our region. If not the worst – if you take the number of rescued animals as a benchmark. And yet, hardly anyone takes any notice of what detlef greiner and his colleagues are doing these days.
7.30 o’clock, harrbach lock, between karlstadt and gemunden. It is still dark. The boat is not visible from the shore. Only a few lights reveal that three men are at work there. "Without our headlamps, we wouldn’t be able to see anything at night," greiner explains a little later in the pod. They take it over to their ship, which is firmly moored in the current of the main. Detlef greiner, christian schatzl and matthias merkl have a long night behind them. The fourth in a row. When the river main floods, their annual rescue operation begins. They save up to five tons of eels a year from certain death.
The eel feels at home in the main and its tributaries. There is enough plankton for the young, worms and snails for the coarser specimens. An adult eel weighs up to two and a half kilos. The eel lives in the french waters for seven to eight years and then sets off on an adventurous journey to its spawning grounds as a so-called white eel. "In the saragosa sea, the eels come together to spawn," reports greiner, 48, a trained toolmaker. He has been fishing since he was a child, but he earned his money on the assembly line. For 28 years. Always deployed abroad. Detlef greiner had enough at some point. When christian schatzl presented him with a proposal, he didn’t have to think long about it. Now the 48-year-old is schatzl’s successor as a professional fisherman – at least ten months a year.
"The problem has not been solved for a long time, but there has been some relief." Dr. Peter wondrak, former. Fisheries advisor
The rest of the time he works at his old job.
Detlef greiner has bought three so-called schokkers, ships that originated in the netherlands and have a swiveling device to which the nets for catching fish are attached. From the schokker, it saves countless eels from certain death on behalf of the power plant operator uniper. "Catch&carry" is the name of the project that was launched in 2010. Some of the eels had previously been formally shredded in the turbines of the power plants.
Dr. Peter wondrak, until recently fisheries advisor for the district of lower franconia, can still remember the images of chopped-up animal carcasses. "Hardly any eel got past the power plants," says the man from sommerach. Wondrak has played a major role in the aid project for the animals. "The problem is far from solved," he says today. "But there has been an alleviation."
At least for the eel on which the aid project is projected. Other species do not have it so well. "Far too many fish still meet their deaths in the turbines of power plants," wondrak laments. His wish: to surround the power plants with turbines through which fish can swim unharmed. "They exist," assures the expert. For example in the USA. "But there, the interest in politics is also much greater."
There are 36 sluices in the main. Every single one was an almost insurmountable obstacle for the animals. Now the power plant operators shut down their turbines at certain times and raise the weirs in the middle of the lock. "The eel drifts with the current," greiner explains. Once past the lock, he drifts right into the net of professional fishermen.
The three of them have pulled 800 kilos on deck this night. A decent catch. But the mannerists have also worked hard for it. "It’s hard to think about sleeping," says greiner, rubbing his eyes. Every two hours, the fishermen pull one of the two nets on board. The so-called fischerhamen is 40 meters long. The two booms each project twelve meters into the main river. "The upper tree swims just below the surface of the water," explains greiner. The lower boom is lowered to the bottom of the river. So many eels can’t get past the schokker.
"They are quite clever." Detlef greiner on the eels and their migration
While the rate of eel kills was an estimated 50 percent in the 1990s, greiner says it has since dropped to five to ten percent. Twelve fishermen from all over france are involved in the project, which is being paid for by uniper. Most eels are caught from the platforms of the eel trawlers, others with the help of fish traps or by electrofishing. However the fishermen catch the eels: they are then transported as quickly as possible to rudesheim, where they are released into the rhine.
Shortly before 9 a.M. At the harrbach lock: daylight has exposed the outlines of the spessart, detlef greiner and his team bring the eels to shore in their pods. Matthias merkl uses a pump and hose to run water into a green container and checks the oxygen supply. The animals have to endure about two hours of travel before they can continue their journey down the rhine towards the north sea. "They are quite clever," says detlef greiner as he unloads another load of eels from his landing net into the container. With the onset of the spawning season, the eels no longer take in food. When the first high tide comes, they leave their safe hatching holes at the bottom of the river and drift with the current.
Save energy, that’s the motto, because it’s about 6,000 kilometers to the saragossa sea, east of florida, where the white eels lay their spawn at a depth of about 6,000 meters – and then die. The small eel larvae then return the other way – before they mostly end up in the nets of the spanish or french fishermen. Glass eels are considered a delicacy there. Others are bought up as new stock for the german rivers. And so – also thanks to the work of detlef greiner and his helpers – a new cycle can begin.