HomeEuropePolish-German finger-pointing over Oder River fish die-off

Polish-German finger-pointing over Oder River fish die-off

It’s still not clear exactly why thousands of fish died in the Oder River, but the causes are “multiple and man-made,” German federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke said on Monday.

Lemke met with her Polish counterpart Anna Moskwa in an effort to figure out what caused the die-off and to reach a deal on the future of the river — something that the two sides failed to agree on.

Lemke blamed “heat, low water levels and man-made discharges,” in a press conference after her meeting with Moskwa. “Regeneration of the Oder must be a priority,” she added.

Both ministers said a comprehensive report analyzing the origins of the environmental disaster will be completed by September 30. Scientists are looking into a bloom of golden algae that released toxins into the water, something researchers have said is potentially linked to industrial discharges harmful to fish and shellfish.

Hundreds of tons of dead fish have been collected from the Oder, which in its northern reaches flows along the Polish-German border.

German local authorities have criticized their Polish counterparts for being slow in flagging the issue and initially accused them of trying to cover it up.

Lemke said Monday: “If we had been informed faster by Poland, we could have reacted faster.” She added that a cross-border warning system will be revised and improved. “Future communication has to be fast, clear and transparent,” she said.

The massive fish die-off has turned into a political problem for Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, after the opposition accused it of ignoring early warning signals that something was wrong with the river. Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday acknowledged that the response of the Polish authorities was “chaotic and late.”

While the restoration of the damaged Oder ecosystem is now a priority for both Germany and Poland, the two ministers strongly disagreed on the implementation of a 2015 plan to expand infrastructure on the river.

Lemke repeated she wants all construction stopped, arguing that “further negative effects on the ecosystem must be avoided.” Moskwa said the river needed work to improve flood protection and transportation, among other reasons.

“The 2015 agreement is valid for both sides. My task is to implement [it],” Moskwa said, adding that “modernization and maintenance measures must be carried out.” She also argued that there is “no connection between this project and the current situation on the Oder” and therefore “no rational reason to stop the works.”

Unlike Poland, Germany has not yet started to deepen or widen the river.

The European Commission in June put forward a Nature Restoration Regulation, which aims at restoring 20 percent of the bloc’s degraded areas by 2030.

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