Estonia rounds up anglers on thin ice


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Estonian officials have caught dozens of anglers fishing through holes cut in the ice of frozen lakes, despite the start of the spring thaw.

Estonia prohibits fishing on lakes from a certain date each year, because of the danger of injury or death if anyone should fall through the thinning ice. The cut-off this year fell yesterday, and rescue patrols have as usual found far too many keen anglers enjoying their hobby, oblivious to the risks they are running, Estonia’s ERR public broadcaster reports.

But this year the Rescue Board is flexing its muscles, warning fishermen that it will call in the police and border guards if they don’t quit the ice. Refusal to comply can lead to fines.

The authorities are concerned at their failure to raise enough awareness of the dangers involved, as 43 people drowned in lakes last year alone – eight of them in the spring months of March to May.

‘No fish is worth it’

One problem is that the ice cover can vary considerably across Estonia, so some areas may see an obvious thaw while lakes elsewhere appear deep frozen.

But Mikko Virkala of the Estonian Rescue Board told Postimees newspaper that ice conditions “can change at any moment”, and had a particular warning for anglers – “no fish is worth losing your life for”.

His warning was put even more bluntly by the Rescue Board’s water safety website, which said “fishermen are prone to accidents because they assume their experience means nothing will happen to them”.

Even strong swimmers find it difficult to scramble out of freezing water without special hand picks, as fit adults can lose consciousness in a matter of minutes.

This has prompted rescue services around the country to raise awareness by inviting the media to cover public drills on how to remain safe on the ice, how to save someone in trouble, and what to do if you fall in.

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Estonian TV broadcast a rescue exercise from Lääne-Viru County earlier this month, in which an experienced diver plunged into a lake wearing a camera in order to show the full terror of trying to scramble out onto moving ice.

‘Keep calm’

And back in December, Pärnu County invited a celebrity YouTuber and a 10-year-old member of the local sailing club to join civic dignitaries in experiencing rescue off the melting ice.

Raido Nagel, a volunteer rescuer in Lääne-Viru County, said the key to survival is “to stay calm – even though this is both the most difficult and most important thing. Try to get yourself back onto the ice, because if it took your weight before, it can take it again”.

Postimees daily also points out that other dangers can face anglers who wander out onto the ice without adequate preparation, as border guards had to rescue a group who managed to blunder into Russia during an expedition on frozen Lake Lämmijärv last month.

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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