Fishermen for a day

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The neophytes reluctantly descend the steps giving access to the lavoriero, the cage in which the fish gets trapped. The murky water marks the depth on the T-shirts. The fishermen help them to welcome the net, which Paolo unravels and offers from the bank. “Su pezzu”, the net crossed at the ends by fine trunks of wood and measured with steps according to the ancient tradition, becomes in the hanging arms a cloth concentrated in the extremity of the V where one of the converging segments of the capture chamber ends. Following the indications, the apprentices are placed on both sides and in the center, unwinding su pezzu in a large reticulated hand which, at regular intervals, rakes and drags the fish. A few yards from their heads another net protects the juveniles of the fish farm Sa Mardini in Cabras from the incursions of the cormorants.

The density increases progressively during the slow procession in the lavoriero, and some prisoners, the most cunning or fearful, already start to dart around, bouncing off the walls of the net. Some succeed in overcoming them in a rush that brushes the fishermen’s heads. Once passed the vertex, the water starts to ripple and then sizzles in a bubbling foam due to the slaps of the fins, furious at the sudden reduction of space. The most imposing mullets plough through the air with powerful jumps while the fishermen turn their faces to avoid the crash. Some of the juveniles have already escaped from the net slipping through the gratings that connect the segments of the lavoriero. In the hands of the crew, now again gathered in a small circle, su pezzu is reduced to a sack where the prey lies: mullets, sea breams, sea basses and soles in a black and white mass where the light reverberates.

"When they move from the pond to the sea we open “su sproni”, a kind of funnel into which the fish enters and gets trapped. We don't keep them for more than a week, the risk is that they lose weight. We fish it according to market demands, day by day. You saw a lot of small fishes in su pezzu. But today was a demonstrative fishing. The minimum limit is four pieces for a kilo”, explains Paolo Sanna, one of the Pontis Consortium fishermen who made themselves available for the “Fishermen for a day" initiative, wanted by the association FLAG Pescando and organized by the Cooperative Company Alea Ricerca & Ambiente.

"Fishermen for a day is part of a series of initiatives we called 'Discovering', aimed at spreading the sea and the lagoons culture. This also means bringing the community, and especially the young and very young students, closer to the world of fishing", tells the dripping participants Alessandro Murana, president of FLAG. “Touching the art of fishing with one's hands does not only mean discovering a technique, but also having access to food culture and getting closer to the harsh difficulties experienced by the sector, and specifically by the Pontis Consortium, composed of eleven cooperatives and 156 fishermen. It is necessary to widen the activities. Fishing must be followed by a diversification of the products in the market ", concludes Murana.

Not only the migrating cormorants, which, changing routes and nesting sites, have been added to the settled ones, forming colonies of over 13,000 specimens around the pond of Cabras. Climate change has altered the intensity of the rains and consequently the degree of salinity in the compendium. Some fish species have completely disappeared. The excess of salinity has not only suppressed the growth of algae, fundamental for the fish nourishment, but has also allowed the proliferation of "sa groga", the ficopomatus enigmaticus, a calcareous concretion formed by the accumulation of external larval structures which, once solidified, changes the composition of the bottom and prevents the natural flow of water. In recent years, although the causes are unknown, the fishermen complain of a sudden increase in the number of jellyfish, nefarious for the effectiveness of the nets.

"My research focuses on the relationship between coastal lagoon ecosystems and local culture. It was a wonderful experience feeling close to the fishing practice in Cabras ", says David Cabana, a young Spanish researcher at the IMC (International Marine Center) in Torregrande. "I work mostly with the sea", adds Daniele Grech, from Tuscany, also a biologist at the IMC. "But the lagoon is a fascinating place of transition. I'm passionate about knowing more, knowing the traditions. Holding the net was really a great experience".

The day began in Cabras, with a visit to the consortium's fishmonger, not far from Su Scaiu, the small pier from which boats leave for the daily work, done according to the old tradition of the “pesca vagantiva”, roaming routes through the pond during which the fishermen climb down the boat and wading across the water use different tools and techniques to catch the seasonal fish. Behind the counter the fishermen described the characteristics and properties of the caught specimens. From the mooring, then, the pond has been described as a natural system, and as ancient place for the economy and culture. "Together with the schools, in previous initiatives, we could admire the fishermen’s dexterity in grasping huge fishes with the hands. It is essential to pass on the knowledge of such an old technique, ecological and food awareness to the new generations. Even for me it was exciting to be there in the middle. Fortunately today we have freed them, but on the few occasions when I eat fish it is always and only local ” says Laura Bassu, naturalist in charge of organizing Alea's educational activities.

The initiates then move a few kilometers away, in the old Peschiera Mar ‘e Pontis. From the terrace of one of the buildings of the old fishermen's village Walter Piras of Alea goes through the centuries-old history of the pond: the Giudicati period, the Spanish one, the Genoese ownership, the brief Savoy passage and the purchase of the Carta family in 1851, the top-down system, the feudal exploitation of fishermen, engaged in the buildings below in daytime work, and sleeping on a bed of branches on the pier at night, between their shift as sentinels, and the next. Then the trade unions struggles in the fifties and the seventies, the purchase by the Sardinia Region in the eighties, the birth of the Consortium, the hardships and the pride of the present. In the distance the heat blurs Cabras in a mirage, lights up the green and straw-colored stains of the vegetation, the dark maze of water winding around the fish pond.