The fishermen of Cabras: the pond is our home

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"We should stop the sea", says Danilo ironically and exhausted, forty-four and thirty years spent fishing at sea or in the pond of Cabras, now sitting in the car, now waiting for the changing of the guard. The wind has risen and the boats wobble, moored on the shore. "Su Scaiu" is the traditional port for the fishermen of the pond, one of the retail fish shops, and the construction that houses the equipment. "In the old times fishing began in September, now we start in March. Everything has been intensively exploited for decades, and now we are paying the consequences. The rain is irregular, the reeds die and some species become extinct because of the exceeding salinity of the water. Today it is impossible to pull up a dogfish”, "explains Danilo, who has completed an eighteen-hour shift. "We do our best. We respect the fish while it grows, we take care of the pond, it’s our home, but it is a bigger problem than us, and despite the subsidies we barely survive”.

Carlo, on the other hand, is keeping an eye on the old Pontis fish farm, just a few kilometers from the sandy pier. He also waits sitting in the car, he also comes from long hours of work: "The cormorants are a problem, they eat all the fish in its early period, leaving us very little. The restaurant - he says indicating the fishing tourism activity connected to the fish farm - just covers the management costs. It's like having gold in your hands and not being able to turn it into wealth ”. Carlo, like Danilo, is a member of one of the eleven cooperatives that constitute the Pontis Consortium, concessionary since 1993 of fishing in the Cabras pond. Along the canals of the old fishpond you can still imagine the ancient method, the fish pushed into the capture chambers, built with reeds. The pond houses the Mugil chephalous, locally known as "Birrottalla", and the Liza ramada, known as "Bidimbua". But, also, although in smaller percentages, the Liza saliens (Mullet musino), the Chelon labrosus (Mullet bosega), and the Liza aurata (Golden mullet). From Birrottalla and Bidimbua come the eggs necessary for the production of the famous local bottarga, processed in the Consortium's factory together with the other typical product, the smoked fillet. Today fishing is carried out in the most modern fish-pond of Sa Madrini, few kilometers away from the old Pontis building, a place of memory and identity for the citizens of Cabras.

"Called pond, that of Cabras actually has the characteristics of a lagoon. A unique system that was once linked to the pond of Mistras and the Gulf of Oristano. The salinity of the water is influenced by both the tides and the Tanui river and the Mare Foghe river, which crosses Riola Sardo, Nurachi and Zeddiani. Those of the lagoon are transitional waters. The variation in salinity is central in determining the presence of fish species ", explains Giorgio Massaro, biologist of the MEDSEA Foundation engaged in the MARISTANIS project, who has been working on the wetlands ecosystem of Cabras for years.

The fishermen can influence the salinity conditions by acting on the Mare Pontis area and the drainage channel. At Mare Pontis, near the fish farm, there are four channels that link the lagoon to the drainage system. For some years the exchange of water has also taken place through a bulkhead in the drainage canal, built to prevent the Tanui and Rio Mare Foghe rivers from flooding Cabras, and in particular some areas of the municipality, known as "Veneziedda". Recently, to increase the exchange of water between the sea and the lagoon, a small lock was opened on the drainage system.

"It was all different at the time of Don Efisio Carta, the ancient owner", says Peppino, who has joined Carl to help him with some maintenance work. “Now we are forced to chase the market, concentrating the activities between March and September, coinciding with the tourist season. In winter we only take care of maintenance and try to prevent illegal fishing. Climate change has added migrant cormorants to the permanent ones, with important consequences. So has the drainage channel. Fresh water helped the grass growth, which is essential for feeding the mullet and the sea bass. Now, instead, we have "sa groga", created by excessive salinity, which further worsens the passage of water ", says Peppino pointing at the concretions present just below the water surface. "Sa groga" is the ficopomatus enigmaticus, a calcareous concretion formed by the accumulation of the external structures of larvae that proliferate in saline environments. "We should try to improve and diversify production - continues Peppino - but to do so we need to work on staff training, and to monitor the ecosystem balance of the lagoon more closely".