RegenerAction Of The Sea Goes Through The Protection Of Its Custodians
Preserving the Mediterranean marine ecosystem, diversifying fishing models, countering the depletion of fish stocks, preventing seabed and habitat degradation, but also preserving traditional knowledge, encouraging cooperation including in research, protecting the rights of fishermen, especially responsible small-scale fishermen, and promoting responsible fishing. These are just some of the general principles included within the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, adopted by FAO at its 1995 conference.
A warning that, after more than two decades, still struggles to be translated into reality, highlighting the clear distance between ambition and concrete action.
It matters little that we are in the Decade of Oceans, launched to promote marine research and the sustainable development of our seas, in the Decade of Family Farming, in which the families of fishermen and aquaculturists also find a place, or that this year is the year that the United Nations dedicates to artisanal fishing and aquaculture if we do not give voice and listen to those who, every day, live the difficulties of an increasingly compromised fishing sector: fishermen.
Real silent heroes who go out at night to face the sea and its dangers to bring us the fish, shellfish, and mollusks that we find every day on our tables. Men and women who deeply know the sea, its balances, its riches, and who deeply respect it, knowing that their and our survival depends on how we treat it.
An all-round regenerative philosophy, that of small-scale fishing, whose value is now formally recognized even internationally, not only as guarantors of marine biodiversity but also as a sector that uses half the fuel to catch fish even though almost half of the fish caught come from small vessels, that chooses less invasive fishing techniques, that has less fish waste and bycatch than large-scale fishing.
Yet, especially in the Mediterranean, family fishers are the main victims of global warming, habitat destruction due to intensive fishing, but also severely affected by phenomena such as illegal and poorly regulated fishing, which we celebrate in a few days on a world day precisely because of the efforts of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean.
“We protect the land, we protect the sea, we protect the air, but meanwhile we fishermen disappear” — Franco, fourth generation fisherman
We can no longer speak in slogans, it is time to act, and to act concretely, through policies that really listen to those who live and deal with the sea every day.
And this is precisely the context for EU AgriFood Week, promoted by the Future Food Institute, in collaboration with the European Commission’s Representation in Italy to connect stakeholders, to bring institutions closer to the real protagonists of food, to translate ambitions into regener-Action, starting from the European will to understand and to be real spokespeople for local needs.
So, from the Municipal Antiquarium to the De Simone Promenade, the “fishermen’s house” home of the Fishermen’s Association of Castellabate (Sa), as guests of Mayor Marco Rizzo, we met and brought together representatives of the area’s marine and fishing sector: fishermen, researchers, experts, as well as trade associations, such as Assoittica, which represents more than 120 national fishing companies, to identify challenges and opportunities in the Blue Economy and sustainable fishing.
What emerged from this magical meeting?
1. Transforming Marine Protected Areas into Experimental Marine Areas
Too often, marine protected areas are considered areas of denial and deprivation: areas that are particularly vulnerable or damaged, areas where fishing or transit is not possible.
Instead, as Stefano Pisani, Mayor of Pollica, shared, these areas could be transformed into incredible opportunities: Experimental Marine Areas, where the role of fishermen becomes strategic again. Guardian fishermen, active protagonists in the protection of critical habitats and marine biodiversity, collecting vital data for research and allowing the sea time to regenerate.
“Everyone must become the guardian of their sea.”- Stefano Pisani, Mayor of Pollica
These are words that, uttered by the man who picked up the baton from the previous Mayor of Pollica, Angelo Vassallo, the “Fisherman Mayor,” and spoken directly from Santa Maria di Castellabate, home to a Marine Protected Area of over 7,000 ha, are steeped in action.
2. Fishermen as promoters of a new gastronomic education
Giuseppe Palma, spokesperson for AssoIttica, drew attention to truly worrying data: “the average consumer knows about 20 fish species and eats only 12 or 13.” Yet, the Mediterranean Sea allows multi-species fishing, with a huge variety of species that can be caught. This is a collective problem, both of consumers who do not know the species and do not know how to cook them and decide not to buy them, but also of fish operators, who could improve in some cases the enhancement of certain products.
In this sense, those who live the sea can become spokesmen for a new gastronomy: more conscious, more attentive, more regenerative, encouraging consumers to eat neglected species and short-lived fish to ensure their reproductive cycle.
“The time has come to return to honoring the sea, respecting its long life span and natural balance. Because regardless of where we live, Aosta Valley, Umbria or Pollica, everything we do has an impact on the sea.” — Cinzia Scaffidi, Lecturer and Journalist
3. United in diversity: the Mediterranean fisheries policy
The Mediterranean Basin is an area of wonderful diversity, suffice it to say that it is recognized as the second largest marine and terrestrial biodiversity hotspot in the world. Yet 20 percent of its biodiversity is in danger of being lost forever, and with it the immense heritage of maritime traditions and cultures centered on the sustainable management of marine resources.
Promoting policies that preserve that wealth is an undisputed necessity, as are those forms of retail fisheries that know how to promote and protect fisheries for so many species in small numbers.
And to do so, policy needs to listen to the voice and needs of fishermen, not understood as isolated individuals, but in their choral voice.
“A fisherman who uses his own voice is unlikely to reach Brussels, because his voice is that of an individual in the midst of 500 million people. My invitation is to the partnership, to the community, to bring together the voices that have something to say.” — Vito Borrelli, Deputy Director of the European Commission’s Representation in Italy
This is not only the challenge of European policy but the challenge to which we are all called, individuals who are completely dependent on the well-being of the sea, its biodiversity and the people who preserve its state.
“Each of us must start thinking seriously about fishing again, keeping in mind that the problems associated with it can only be solved by including the “sea” theme in management strategies, or there will be no winners or losers: there will only be failure and the loss of one of the most important intangible heritages of the Italian seas, which are precisely the fishing communities.”- Silvestro Greco, Research Director at the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station