As spring approaches and the snow covering Etna, the volcano, melts, fishermen on Sicily’s Aeolian Islands are preparing for the coming fishing season. Nets are stitched, wooden boat hulls painted with vibrant colours and traditional wicker ‘nassa’ pots primed for shrimp and lobster.
On Salina, one of the seven Aeolian Islands, local fishermen have put down their nets and taken off their gloves to sign up to a commercial fishing code of conduct which will voluntarily restrict net lengths, longline hook numbers and encourage other best-practice measures to ensure protection of fish stocks and their livelihoods.
This historic adoption by Salina’s fishers, meeting in the fishing village of Malfa, was supported by the local mayor and the coastguard, both of whom attended the signing, leading the way for the other islands to join in and make a model of working together with conservationists their own. The example set by Salina’s fishers was closely followed by the fishers of Stromboli, signing their own code the very next day.
Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) has pledged support to help guide effective management measures and provide tangible infrastructure and equipment in the form of ice machines and reusable, insulated fish boxes (to reduce polystyrene waste). The fisheries and conservation management model, developed by BLUE in Lyme Bay, Dorset shows no sign of geographical limitation.
Stromboli fisher, Gaetano Cusolito explains his decision to sign-up: “The code of conduct makes sense to me because that’s how I’ve always fished sustainably. I just wish that others would do the same. The next generation of Aeolian fishermen will be jobless unless I set a good example and hope that others follow”.
BLUE has been working with the Aeolian fishers for two years in order to understand their needs and provide solutions for the survival of the struggling fishery. Decades of overfishing and mismanagement of Aeolian waters has made making a living as a local, small-scale fisherman increasingly difficult. Larger, more advanced and industrial vessels ‘invade’ the archipelago with vast nets and long-lines, taking with them swordfish, tuna, amberjack and squid. Uncontrolled spearfishing has led to the collapse of grouper stocks and lobsters have not been given the chance to breed before capture. The result is a sea, worryingly devoid of life (apart from thriving populations of jellyfish).
In 2016, the Italian Ministry of Environment, Land and Sea pledged to create a marine protected area (MPA) around the Aeolian Islands to restore and protect both fish stocks and local livelihoods. The Aeolian economy relies predominantly on fishing and tourism, two industries clearly impacted by mismanagement of marine resources. BLUE and local NGO, The Aeolian Island Preservation Fund (AIPF) are supporting the designation of the MPA through a range of projects, studies and community initiatives. Arguably the most important of all is to gain the support of local fishers – by nature, the caretakers of Aeolian waters.
Fishermen who sign up to the scheme will be recognised by a ‘label’ of responsible fishing. Local restaurants and hotels will be encouraged to buy and promote locally, sustainably caught seafood to visiting tourists. A local seafood guide will support this initiative, teaching both locals and visitors about Aeolian fish and the importance of buying responsibly.
With support from The Adessium Foundation and Marks & Spencer, BLUE is using the model developed in Lyme Bay to show the Aeolian fishers that marine protection can provide a win-win for conservation and sustainable fishing. BLUE’s project coordinator, Dr.Giulia Bernardi, visited Lyme Bay to learn how the model works on the ground and to speak to fishermen and conservationists about the economic benefits it has brought to the local communities and environmental improvements within the bay. Giulia took this knowledge as a ‘tool-kit’ back to the Aeolians to roll out the model.
Next steps include spreading the model throughout the other Aeolian Islands, facilitating exchanges of fishermen from different protected areas in Italy and supporting scientific studies, which will give an indication of the success of the project.
This summer, there will be shorter nets, fewer hooks, more fish and less plastic in Aeolian waters.