From Lake to Lunch — Chiemsee´s finest Catch. Visiting Chiemseefischerei Stephan

Martin Schönleitner is one of 17 fishermen at Lake Chiemsee. Together with wife Verena Stephan they both run Chiemseefischerei Stephan, a family business for 400 years. Their ancestors had started their venture at Lake Constance. For three generations (at the present site) the Stepahn family lives and fishes at Lake Chiemsee, Prien am Chiemsee to be precise.

Fishing is an early-birds practice and when the day dawns Martin boards his boat and goes out to check on his nets. There are seasons for the various kinds of fish corresponding with the mating and breeding habits. When they breed and lay their eggs, the particular kind must not be fished. If found in the net, that kind is returned. But also when fish are too young — which means when they are too small.

Also in the “Mare Bavaria” populations are on the decline. Just a decade or so ago, a fisherman’s boat would bring up to 1000 fish ashore if in the right season. Today there are about 300 per catch. Martin Schönleitner only catches what he and his wife can sell at their fish stand and garden in Prien — which is surprisingly on a hill, not on the lake’s shore — and delivers to only a very few local restaurants.

Perch, whitefish, pike, braxe and eel are the typical fish. However, eels are in a dramatic decline, since they get stuck and die in sewage treatment plants and weirs. Together with the other fishermen on Lake Chiemsee — the oldest being the Schaber, Horst, 86 years — they have formed a cooperative whose purpose is to breed young fish, both for the stabilisation of their population and for genetic diversity within the species. 

The lake is on average 15 metres deep and the nets are at 12 to 15 metres. The mesh of the nets are large enough to let young (small) fish escape. Populations are endangered less by fishing, but by invasive species. The local sweetwater crab has long become a victim of the American sweetwater crab, the Quaker mussle is also an invader harming the local mussle populations, and those are key to keeping plankton growth at bay. 

It is a difficult business. And it seems the worries are on the rise. Still — as you see in the video — keeping the family tradition and having a close connection to the beloved environment that Verena and Martin call home is their calling. Rest assured, eating their fish is definitely not as harmful as so many Ocean fish. The difference: The fishermen here care for their lake — and do not compete. 

Lake Chiemsee is owned by the State of Bavaria and is leased to fishermen and -women.

Videography: Johannes König
Photography: Lars Harmsen

Want to know more about Chiemseefischerei Stephan? Check out their website:

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