• June 8, 2023

Passionate fishermen: stories of women who love the sea

Lto new boat of Antonella Donato tastes of salt and poetry. She is a felucca, a light sailing ship with a long iron pole, 18 meters, on which she will climb to spot swordfish with the naked eye. Antonella is perhaps the best known fisherwoman in Italy: together with his sister, Giusy, he took over the company of his grandfather Marco and today, the only woman, at 38, with an almost degree in political science (she just needs an exam)is the president of the Strait Feluche Fishermen’s Association.

Seaspiracy, the documentary that overturns our perception of fishing

Seaspiracy, the documentary that overturns our perception of fishing


For a long time she went out to sea with a six and a half meter gozzo, but now this boat with an ancient flavor has arrived and from next year there will also be the marina on the beach of Ganzirri, a seaside village of Messina, right in front of the old one. family home.

With the gozzo you go with lines and trammel net (a type of fishing net, ed). We remain close to the coast for blue fish, mullet, bogue, redfish: a catch at 0 km, defined as “poor”, but of great nutritional value. Back to shore, we pull up the winch slowly to be able to throw back into the sea the fish that got stuck in the net by mistake and mend it where it tore. It is a historic fishing, without mechanical aids, which maintains the ancient equality between man and fish. Even when we fish swordfish, we don’t use radar to intercept it or nets, just eye sighting and harpoon capture. We do it because we want to take only what is needed from the sea. No waste of resources, no exploitation ».

It is by listening to Donato that we understand what sustainable fishing means. That the Mare Nostrum, that Mediterranean where 519 endemic fish species live (of which only a small part of commercial interest) and in which two million tons of fish are fished and bred every year, is a precious hot-spot of biodiversity to be protected.

Antonella Donato

For a local and equal sea

“Sustainable fishing is the result of many factors,” he says Elisabetta Betulla Morello of the FAO General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. “There is the control of the number of boats that fish every day for a given species, there are the fishing stops (the interruptions of invasive fishing with bottom trawls or flying nets – usually during the summer season, but diversified according to of the maritime sector – imposed by the government to safeguard the reproductive periods of marine species, ed) and zone restrictions, the adoption of minimum sizes of fish caught … But for a real social, environmental, and even economic benefit of coastal communities, it is important that gender equality is also achieved in this sector. Recognizing, understanding and enhancing the role of women will contribute to the sustainability of fishing ”.

The invisible fisherwomen

It should be remembered that it was the FAO that declared the 2022 International Year of Artisan and Sustainable Fishing and Aquaculture and to promote the Regional action plan for small-scale fishing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, while the European Parliament adopted the resolution on 16 September Fishers for the future: all initiatives that emphasize the role of small-scale fishing and the work done by a real army of “invisible” fisherwomen.

As Morello still says: «It is estimated that the number of women working in the sector, from capture to processing, is over 14 thousandbut the “officially” employed are only between 1 and 6 per cent ».

So we continue to think that this is a job for men only, yet it would be enough to see what he does every day Elisa Passarella, member of the Cooperative of the Sea, boat leader of a vehicle he owns, in the water up to one meter with a rubber suit to collect clams, which he then selects and takes to the Gorino quay. Just like his father did.


Elisa Catwalk

Hook (king) and fishing line

After all, fishing is a family story, a passion. Katiuscia Bellan became a fisherwoman in the Porto Tolle area, in Pila, at the mouth of the Po, for love. At 14 she met her husband, who at 19 was already sailing and took her around mullets and lupins, and so, after school, she decided to go to sea too.

“It’s cold in winter, hot in summer, but we all know each other, and I like it,” he says. She is so passionate that on vacation she goes to Norway to see how cod is dried, to Ireland for scampi, to Iceland for cod. During the off-fishing period, a van for “frying prêt à porter” was invented“. Above all, after attending the Coldiretti Veneto Fishing School – the first in Italy to teach the trade to new generations and make women aware of their role, with teachers such as Cinzia Scaffidi of Slow Food or the biologist from the University of Padua. Carlotta Mazzoldi – goes to elementary schools in the Mestre area to tell what it means to be a fisherwoman.

The early rising, the waiting, the catching, the cleaning of the boat, the nets, the rising temperatures and the changing catch. In a nutshell, a live report from the sea: “However, what strikes the children most is the list of rubbish we take home. Every day I fill two or three bags with nylon sheets, plastic balls and cups, cotton buds, toys… ». And this is how Bellan reveals how fishing boats are transformed into cleaners of the sea. That they not only take fish from the sea, but also a lot, too much, garbage.


Katiusha Bellan

Female fishermen: a fleet for a clean sea

The Oscar Green 2021 by Coldiretti Marchefor example, if it has been awarded Chiara Meriti. After withdrawing the nets and arranging the fish, with her fishing boat Adriana III she is dedicated to collecting waste. It is a way of being active even during periods of rest, but also of affirming that in ecological practices the protagonists are always them, the fishermen. And the fisherwomen. More and more committed to showing the new generations that it is not just about bringing fish to the table, but about taking care of an important part of our planet. It is fishing that becomes a way of making culture of the sea, and fishing tourism.

It happens for Donato from Messina and for Maddalena Fava of the Ziguele cooperative (from the name with which in Genoese dialect the donzella is called, a colorful fish typical of the Mediterranean seabed): “We were born as a female cooperative and, at the beginning, we tried to to be a fisherwoman, but then we realized that it was necessary to promote a true culture of fishing. Here in Camogli, there are still seven fishermen who practice an ancient fishing, the tonnarella. In spring, large-meshed coconut fiber nets drop into the sea to form a sort of labyrinth in which the adult passing fish get stuck, while the smaller sedentary ones create a small ecosystem around the net. It is important that everyone understands the importance of traditional fishing like this, we train locals, curious tourists, in schools. During the pandemic, we bought an underwater drone to stream live from the bottom of the sea for the kids. We inspect the keels, we monitor the seabed, we explore the tonnarella from the inside ». And you can see mackerel, skipjack, white breams …

Breeding sustainability

In fact, the good news is that, from the point of view of fishing, according to the latest data from The State of Mediterranean and Black Sea Fisheries report, the state of the Mediterranean’s resources is improving. The percentage of unsustainably exploited species has dropped from 88 to 75 percent, but there is still a lot to do. For example, starting to think, also in view of the increase in the consumption of fish products, to sustainable aquaculture that lightens the marine ecosystem.

“We are at a point of collapse, and I believe that breeding is the future, naturally sustainable,” says Maria De Salvador. Veterinaria, together with her husband who works in an experimental research center for aquaculture, she founded Trotarium, a trout farm in the Belluno area, just outside the park of the Dolomites.

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Her pioneering activity has earned her a place on the celebratory calendar that the Italian Fish Farmers Association has dedicated to women in aquaculture, a sector that represents world-class excellence. «The water of the Mis stream comes from Passo Cereda and is very cold and rich in microorganisms, ideal for good quality fish. I breed at a very low density, so as not to have to resort to treatments or forced feeding: I could produce 220 quintals, but I choose to do only 60 ». And from this summer there will also be a pond for fishing in the woods for children, families and amateurs. That at least they will learn something about fishing. Patience and silence are said.


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