You know there is nothing that I love more than being out on a silent boat on the water.. and i suppose that i am lucky that my job sometimes allows me to do just that. Okay, not always silent, sometimes there are people shouting orders, but you do get some quiet time to look at the horizon as you move between sampling locations.
As I mentioned before, I work a lot in shallow water coastal areas, and as part of my current work, I like to focus on ways to improve our food productions in a sustainable way. Which involves (and hope this will increase as my research progresses) some working with local fishermen (more often than not, quite though on the outside but really some very nice people!).
One of the things that, in my opinion, is an important aspect of sustainability is to keep things small scale and local. And well, small-scale fisheries can do just that! Yes, maybe they can still cause some disruptions, but on a small-scale it should not be cause for distress. It is also on the fishermen interest to keep the system healthy, so it will be producing in the following years. A large scale (industry-based) will not care as much.
Having direct interactions with the fishermen at times, made me also realise just how much knowledge of the systems they have. They know how to work in their specific site, they might even be able to tell you if a year is going to be a good one or not, based on some observations on the winds / weather / temperature - that sometimes can feel like it's totally voodoo and 'but how can they be so sure?', but hey, more often than not, they tend to know what they are talking about!
Not only their work tends to be small-scale and low impact, but it also keeps alive some cultural traditions (that often are passed down through the family). When I thought of 'traditional fisheries' I often thought of some small-scale things in poorer countries, without realising how close to me some truly traditional ways of fishing are.
It is no secret that I am very attached to Venice. Now, when you think of Venice you might only think of it as the beautiful city shaped as a fish. But if you zoom out (imagine that you can fly) you will soon realise that the fish is very small compared to the big big lagoon that surrounds it both north and south!
The lagoon is protected by barrier islands (the Lido and Pellestrina) and two land stripes (Chioggia and Jesolo) which allows the lagoon to exchange water with the Adriatic sea in four points.
Overall, this makes the lagoon quite a productive system! And, in fact, there is big history of fishing here!
The lagoon used to provide enough food for every inhabitant (aside from the Christmas period, where fish had to imported from nearby areas) - but only before the 1700, after which the demand increased. Fish was very important (and apparently, they were not allowed to sell the locally caught sturgeon fish to foreigners!), and the fish business was under the jurisdiction of the 'magistrato'. The fisheries developed in this context - where traditions were passed on through the family for generations, and different families had their own ways of 'maximising' profits according to their own experience (and this seems to happen still now - they do know a lot about their sites, although they don't often measure it and especially in this times of changes and uncertainties about the climate, experience should be coupled with some scientific knowledge). Even some 'clans' developed, and there were rules to join: a fisherman had to be over 50 and with 20 years of fishing experience to join, and, of course, you had to be of Venetian origin.
As much as I loved finding out about these anecdotes, and I know that this is something that belongs in the past, and yes, we could not feed the world with just a few sticks and net, but I also think that we moved way too far off these traditions, and it became so impersonal.
I would like to believe that these fishermen had a respect for the sea, and would know how to treat it in order to be able to find fish again in the following years. They had their own 'fishing closures' for example, by allowing the dredging nets to be only used up until easter and back again from autumn (leaving spring and summer for spawning and reproduction). Now we go out, we find fish super easily with various sonars and other technologies, and we clear it all (or as we say in italian - make 'piazza pulita' - which translates to 'clean square'), which i find a bit sad...
I would like to hope that one day we could go back to traditions and craftsmanship in these types of activity - for now the best you can do is to try and support the system, by shopping local and in season. And have a chat with them, you might be surprised ;)
And if you are interested , there is a mediterranean consortium for nature and cultural practices that enhance biodiversity !
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