An interview with Manuel Hinterhofer, Director, Wiener Fischereiausschuss

“In the old days, the fishermen were the experts, spending a lot of time on the water every day, watching and observing. A lot of this knowledge has been lost.”

Out walking along the Danube recently, Manuel Hinterhofer pointed out the shimmering forms of a spawning fish bed to a woman playing fetch with her dog nearby. It’s beautiful, but sensitive, he told her, pointing at the glistening patterns of movement in the water. “Really?” she said, delighted, and promptly called her dog back from the river’s edge.

For Hinterhofer, 55, head of the public Wiener Fischereiausschuss that promotes sustainable fishing practices, it was a small victory. One of his missions is to educate people on the river’s ecology and inspire them to educate each other.

He sees opportunities in the growing number of hobby fishermen from other countries some of whom are familiar with many of the river’s 70 species of fish. “The average Austrian recreational fisherman only goes after about five of these,” Hinterhofer said.

Fischereiausschuss is partly supported by the fees for fishing licenses, which cost €13 for one year. That’s where the learning begins – the license can be granted only after one passes a “low-level” exam. “In Montana, you pay 50 bucks and fish in the middle of nowhere to your heart’s content – without any test,” Hinterhofer said.

Smaller scale bodies of water in Europe, he says, require more consideration. Here, the exam – in effect since 2011 – covers the relevant law and regulations in Vienna, most of which have to do with the environment, but also which size and condition of fish one may keep, and which must be returned to the water.

Although hobby fishing was already popular at the turn of the 19th century, the significance of ecological issues on the Danube has become increasingly important over the last few decades, he said. But Hinterhofer’s list is long: Restoring channels for migratory fish, understanding the damage caused by invasive species, or protecting other forms of wildlife that contribute to the ecosystem, such as beavers and cormorants. But then again, so is the list of fish that make their home in the Danube, and that Austrian fishermen are still getting to know.