Budapest Sun
Fishermen's blues

By Tamás S Kiss

Mch. 9, 2000

Local fishermen, led by 47-year-old third generation fisherman Géza Kovács, said that they want the Government to either channel funds to ease their losses or otherwise lift the ban on fishing in the river as the cyanide spill has passed.

The Environmental Ministry introduced the ban and claimed that about 70% of the poisoned fish have sunk to the river bed and will only surface when the weather gets warmer.

"If we are not allowed to catch the remaining healthy fish then the poachers will do so and sell them for pennies," said Kovács, who works for the local fishing company Halász Kft.

"We could all go bankrupt and there will be no-one left to fish when the situation normalizes."

According to the fishermen, one of the healthy sample catches they took for analysis to water wildlife laboratory Vituki in Budapest showed a barely detectable hint of cyanide in the liver of the fish, which they argue hardly anyone ever eats.

"The biologist who did the lab tests said that there was more cyanide in marzipan than in that fish's liver," said Kovács.

Like his mates, József Török, 26, who has been a fisherman on the Tisza since 1994, is now compelled to do maintenance work, mend nets, collect fish carcasses (that surface) and other fisherman chores since the Government banned fishing on the river. But none of these activities bring in any money for his family. "The fishing season is a dynamic time and we have to live off our catch for the entire year," he said, noting that before the poisoning their customers purchased every fish they caught."

Török wished that the Government would allocate funds to help fishermen and all those who live off the Tisza in this time of trouble, rather then support only scientific and political groups.

"We don't need hundreds of experts to prove again and again that the Tisza fish were poisoned; it speaks for itself. There is nobody here really to represent us and we fishermen are only notified about political and environmental rallies after they have happened," he said.

"The Greens were nowhere in sight when I was collecting poisoned fish carcasses, but now they are everywhere trying to beat us to everything," he stressed.

According to fishermen, there have been major chemical spills on the Hungarian side of the border that have also decimated the river's wildlife in the recent past. "We can't blame Romania for everything," said one of the fishermen, who preferred not to give his name.

Szolnok Mayor Ferenc Szalay said that he believes prevention is of the utmost importance.

He insisted that experts and environmental groups from the financially stronger US and EU should be invited to help control and monitor the environmental situation of Central and East European region, including Hungary.

"If a nation does not satisfy the norm then major sanctions should be implemented even if it means jeopardizing the nation's accession in the EU," the mayor said.

He added that the only real catastrophes (pollution and floods) that could occur in Hungary arrive via its waterways.

"We have no volcanoes or real earthquakes in this region," he said.

Szalay and other officials said that they expect it would cost the central budget at least Ft1 billion ($4 million) to help subsidize locals and fund restoration work along the Tisza. He added that about three times as many fish would have to be refilled into the Tisza to restore it quickly enough for the situation to normalize.

"Just refilling the river with fish cost an annual Ft40 million ($155,000)," Szalay said.

Original article