GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — A catfish controversy has surfaced here over plans to remove 20 of the up-to-8-foot-long predators from Grünhund (Green Dog) Lake — one of 11 fishing lakes inside the training area.

The catfish removal plan was the brainchild of Grafenwöhr Fishing Program director Dale Doeden, who says they could damage the ecosystem in the lake — commonly known as L Lake — by eating too many smaller fish. Doeden advocates lowering lake levels so the catfish can be rounded up.

Opposing him are several Grafenwöhr fishing permit holders who claimed, at a Monday night meeting, that his plan would kill all the fish in the lake, along with the catfish.

Doeden, who has managed the fishing program for eight years, fishes regularly but has not eaten fish since a childhood accident in which he choked on a fish bone. He said he had nothing against catfish. The problem is the number of catfish in L Lake, which, by his estimate, includes more than 20 creatures weighing more than 50 pounds each, he said.

“The Wels catfish found in the lake are native to Germany and are the largest freshwater predators in Europe. A catfish caught at Mainflinger Lake in Hessen was more than 8 feet long and its stomach contained 28 trout, a (2-foot-long) pike, a muskrat and a duck. That’s a lot of eating,” Doeden said.

They mostly feed on other fish. Grafenwöhr’s lakes and three fishing streams have a wide variety of species including brook, rainbow and brown trout; pike; walleye; eel and carp. And keeping the training area’s lakes and streams stocked with fish is expensive. Last year the fishing program, which started 50 years ago, spent $15,000 restocking lakes. For example, 150 kilograms (68 pounds) of trout — about 200 fish of various sizes — cost 1,000 euros, Doeden said.

Some fishing permit holders said Dichauter Lake, also in the training area, never recovered after a previous fish removal program there two years ago. That lake also was partially drained to remove the catfish.

Doeden defended the Dichauter operation.

“We lowered the water and dragged nets behind boats and by hand and removed at least 10 big catfish. The largest was over 2 meters (2.2 feet)” long, he said.

The lake rebounded quickly after the catfish were taken away, he said.

“Today you can see ducks and fish in the lake. People are catching more pike and more walleye out there and the lake looks alive, whereas before it did not,” he said.

Some permit holders said doing the same thing at L Lake would be unsafe. The lake, which extends into the main impact area at Grafenwöhr, is believed to be full of unexploded ordnance. L Lake normally can be fished for only two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon when there are breaks in firing.

Doeden said 105 mm artillery shells, helicopter rockets, .50-caliber machine-gun rounds and various other bullets were removed from Dichauter Lake by explosive ordnance disposal experts before that catfish roundup.

“We know this is a training area. Training has been going on here for many years. You find ammunition in many of the lakes. I consult range control, safety, environmental and explosive ordnance disposal when necessary,” he said.

One permit holder suggested using fish-finding radars to locate the catfish in L Lake instead of lowering the water. But another warned that fish finders might set off the explosives in the lake.

Doeden said he would research the possibility of using fish finders, but he added that the catfish still had to be removed and draining the lake was the best way to do that.

There is likely to be a big influx of fishermen at Grafenwöhr with the arrival of the 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment at Vilseck this summer from Fort Lewis, Wash., an area where fishing is extremely popular, he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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