Lone pensioner keeps dog sled crabbing tradition alive
Though his catches may be meagre, a German pensioner is single-handedly keeping the centuries-old tradition of North Sea crabbing via dog sled alive.
Each day 63-year-old Erhard Djuren harnesses his three mixed-breed dogs Pepo, Felix and Lisa to his sled and they set off to the mudflats at low tide with a chorus of barks.
“It’s really fun for them,” he says.
Water and mud spray in wide arcs behind the sled as they travel the two kilometres to their fish traps off the coast of Wremen, a tiny Lower Saxony fishing village along the Wattenmeer, or Wadden Sea.
The tidal mudflats off of the North Sea are feeding grounds to millions of migratory birds and a unique ecosystem honoured as a world natural heritage site by UNESCO in 2009.
The trip takes the trio of dogs just 10 minutes, and Djuren checks his 30 round baskets, which lay aground at low tide.
High season for crabbing lies between September and October, he says, but he still enjoys going out each day. Currently there’s not much: a few crabs, smelt, and sometimes a cod or an eel.
Unless there’s a big storm, he takes the trip each day from May to December, sometimes twice a day, in accordance with the tides.
“I do it for the fun of it,” he says. “And to hold on to the old tradition.”
He’s the last of the Wattenmeer crabbers – even in the 1950s only 10 lived in the village.
As a boy Djuren loved to join them on the daily journey to their traps, but he ended up with a profession on dry land as a farmer. After he retired 10 years ago he rented out his farm and returned to pursue his crabbing passion, though.
According to Dirk Sander, head of the Weser-Ems fishing association, Djuren is probably the only such fisherman in Europe.
“It’s not worth it anymore,” he explained.
While there’s not much to sell, when Djuren returns home there’s always a hot kettle on the stove to cook the few crabs that come in.
“My wife shells them herself and the neighbours come over,” Djuren says.
He’ll continue as long as he can, but believes there will be no one to follow in his footsteps, relegating the tradition to the local museum.