NIDA - The waters of the Curonian Lagoon off the coast of Nida have sustained generations of fishermen, dating back to prehistoric times when the now extinct Curonian tribes inhabited the area. Yet the ancient way of life in this remote area is under threat by new regulations that local fishermen say is making an already difficult profession even harder.
At the beginning of this year, a new directive drafted by the Environment Ministry went into effect forbidding the setting of trap-nets in inland waters except during daylight hours. For the lagoon's eel-trappers, the rule is a huge blow to their fishing potential.
Unlike the large schooners that troll off the Baltic coast looking for saltwater fish, the small boats used by the fishermen along the Curonian Spit-a narrow strip of land that separates the lagoon from the sea proper-rarely pull in a catch that scores a hefty profit. The eel, pike, pike-perch and wild carp they bring ashore are mainly used to feed the spit's tourists.
Fishermen claim that the new net regulation is placing their welfare in even greater jeopardy than it had been in the past. Worse, it even brings into question the very long-term viability of their peaceful lifestyle.
Ignas has been fishing the lagoon since childhood and says the net regulation has made fishermen's life more taxing than ever.
"Who knows what the government is thinking. They should learn not to shit where they eat. They're thieves," he says.
According to Ignas, his profits from the eel catch-usually the most lucrative of the fish lured into nets in the lagoon-has been decimated by the regulation.
"You see what I have to work with here. How much do you think I can catch with these things to begin with?" Ignas said as he held up a hand-woven net.
While fishermen on the spit complain of the unnecessary directive, Vilnius bureaucrats explain that the rule will facilitate better policing of fishing in the environmentally sensitive lagoon.
"It's difficult to keep track of how people are netting in the dark," said Antanas Gomta of the internal waters fishing department in the Agriculture Ministry. "Simply put, the nets are impossible to see."
Gomta further stressed that the introduction of the rule was in no way associated with Lithuania's EU membership, a fact of which fisherman in Nida were well aware.
Officials in the Environment Ministry contacted by The Baltic Times declined to comment on the motives for the net regulation.
While Nida's fishermen argue that the rule should never have been brought into force in the first place, they are even more upset that the government, which already strictly regulates the trade, has done nothing to compensate them financially.
"Look at the way governments of Western countries treat their fishermen. When Canada stopped cod fishing, they compensated the fishermen. How can they tell us not to have our nets out and then not compensate us?" asked Stasys, another lifelong Nida fisherman.
Government officials confirmed that there was little prospect of the fishermen receiving direct financial support from the state.
"There are no plans for compensation at this point," said Gomta.
As policy experts in the capital contemplate the relative advantages of regulations, the fishermen will continue casting their nets in the lagoon-but with less prospect for financial reward.
"We'll keep fishing. This is the way we've always done it," said Ignas.