KEEPING THE TRADE ALIVE: FISHERMEN IN THE 21ST CENTURYStudents: Lizzy Shea, Lika Atabaeva, Joya Lawrence, Violetta Strelkova
Let us describe Chioggia to you. A small fishing town nestled in the Northwest of the Adriatic Sea, Chioggia is a part of the larger Venetian Lagoon. While walking through the city, it is a bit of a maze, with streets coming to a dead-end with one canal after another. The crisp breeze of salt water fills your nose and the air is tinged with the smell of fresh fish. Looking around you can see the just-opened markets filled with local shoppers looking to purchase the newest catch of the day. Whatever you do, don’t call it “Little Venice,” a term that will have these locals glaring at you like you overcooked your pasta. As the residents see it, Venice should be called, “The Bigger Chioggia.” While Venice has moved its economy to tourism, Chioggia represents what these fishing towns were in the past, a slice of authentic history that is moving into the 21st century.
Seafarers, Lagoon Fishermen, and the Vallicoltori
You’ll see it’s not all about leisure while walking around the canals. As a working fishing port, boats of all sizes line the docks and the piers, each one showing the work of its crew. The larger boats that can support the trawlers and mechanical dredges are the ones that go out to sea, bringing most of the fish in with them.
The smaller boats are the ones that head out to the lagoons, utilizing passive fishing techniques like crab pots and other static fishing gear. But don’t think that these lagoon fishermen aren’t able to keep up; they bring in important shellfish and other small fish that may not be able to be found in the deeper Adriatic waters.
Vallicoltori are the fishermen in the Venetian lagoon who cultivate fish, a product that is becoming more and more attractive with new government regulations on open water fishing that are aimed to protect wild sea life. Their fish has something desirable for consumers. When on display for the buyers, these fish are lined up beautifully and uniformed in size. This is appealing for someone who wants to make sure everything is proportioned just right and for the right price.
“It’s generational. My father, my grandfather, and now my son. He is the 5th generation […] I have always worked on the boat since I was a child.”
Generational Lifestyles and the Decline of Tradition
We were able to speak with Maurizio Tiozzo, a local fisherman who has been in the industry for the past 40 years. He spoke of his son, who is also continuing in the path of fishing. However, shipowners and fishermen often show a prevailing attitude to favor a different industry than fishing for their sons, due to the hardship of work at sea and the low quality of life. This trend could lead to a tendency for the younger generations to abandon the traditional fishing lifestyle for more favorable and profitable work. Maurizio was also explaining to us that the waters are not what they used to be, with less boats and fish in the lagoons. Over half of the number of boats have decreased in the last 30 years, during the majority of his career. Issues like climate change, lower fish population, and government policies, including fishing seasonally and limited days a week, have created struggles for the community. We were lucky to meet “a next-generation” employee by the name of Elena. She is the daughter of one of the owners of Grego Pesca, a fish distributor for retail markets. She too is concerned about what will happen in the future, stating, “The fish are becoming smaller and we cannot sell because they don’t meet a specific standard.” With the changes in the fishing industry, will this work be able to survive the next generations?
Women in the Workforce or Lack Thereof …
The superstition that women on board brings bad luck seems to be an irrational stereotype spread by Hollywood movies. Although in Chioggia, it is a common belief – the fishermen do not allow women on the vessels. Meanwhile, women themselves are not aiming to get these kinds of jobs, which, according to Elena, are believed to be unsuitable for females. This notion was supported when we asked whether there were fisherwomen in the area, and one resident replied “Absolutely not.” Afterall, it is customary in Italy for the fishing tradition to be handed down from father to son and it seems no different here in Chioggia.
Women represented less than 10% of the total number of employees working in fisheries and aquaculture in Italy. Even with a low statistic, we were hoping to meet a few more during our visit. Women in the fishing industry are rare with many working in ‘invisible’ sectors, such as processing, administration, and sales. According to the Consortium in Chioggia, there are around eight women working in the industry there, a much smaller amount than 10%. Based on our conversations with locals, we did learn of one woman who fishes privately and sells her catch from a small boat along the canals to other local residents.
Continuing Forward in Hopes for a Brighter Future
No longer do fishermen have to work alone, but rather they can get help from a Consortium. The Consortium is economically more profitable for fishermen because it brings together people with different skills. It focuses on complying with community’s rules, which is important for the fishermen’s identity, along with the people in the Veneto region. This self-regulated organization can provide assistance for equilibrium between traditions and innovations.
This organization should be the reason why the fishermen of today can be successful. But when they only hold open meetings once a week, that may impede when people can come and communicate what they need in order to succeed. It is pertinent to keep these lines of contact open for the fishermen, as they are the ones who will be affected by new government regulations, some which may be more complicated than they previously were. Having the traditions of the past is a wonderful part of history, but in order to succeed in this new era, it is important to have regular and consistent communication between all parts of the industry, from higher government officials to the fishermen and everyone in between. That way, this fishing community will be able to sail confidently into the future.
Biologia Marina Dept. (2022). Fishing Fleets From 1991-2021. Fishing Fleets in Chioggia. Retrieved November 20, 2022, https://chioggia.biologia.unipd.it/en/the-database//
ChioggiaPesca. (2013). The Chioggia Wholesale Fish Market – Fish Market Chioggia. ChioggiaPesca. Retrieved November 20, 2022, http://www.chioggiapesca.com/the-chioggia-wholesale-fish-market
European Parliament, Directorate-General for Internal Policies (2013). Women in Fisheries. A European perspective. Women in fisheries, European Union: Policy Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Policies (2001). Socio-economic aspects of the Adriatic Sea fisheries. Pp. 29-30.
Tiozzo, M. (2022, October 27). Personal interview.
X, Elena (2022, October 27). Personal interview. L’azienda Grego Pesca