Marine Area of Torre Guaceto
a workshop of biodiversity
As for climate change, we suffer from it like everyone else. Among other things, we’ve had to cope with an invasion of bluefish of up to 50/70 cm in length (in Turkey they are fighting to have the minimum length increased from the present 14 cm).
Torre Guaceto Terra Madre Food Community
I’m Marcello Longo and I’m president of Cooperativa Emma at Torre Guaceto (Puglia), a cooperative that began life as a Terra Madre food community and is now active in its local area. I’m also a national councilor of the nonprofit Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity and Slow Food Italy, and I’ve been the local Slow Food Convivium leader on a number of occasions.
Today Torre Gualceto is a protected marine area covering an area of 2,200 square meters in which different enterprises—Slow Food, the fishermen and Consortium of Torre Guaceto, formed by the communes of Carovigno, Brindisi and WWF Italy—work in collaboration with each other. It was by no means easy to for us to achieve this result, but time has proved us right. The area is divided into three separate zones; one reserved solely to scientific research and guided tours, a second is for bathing and guided tours, and a third is authorized for professional activities such as artisan fishing. Precisely to manage fishing, Slow Food—represented by the Alto Salento Convivium of which I used to be leader—has drawn up a joint protocol with the Consortium and its researchers and in agreement with the fishermen themselves.
The first step was to apply for a five-year ban on fishing to help fish stocks to regenerate. The decision didn’t go down well at first with the fishermen, but today no one is prepared to turn back. The five years have now expired and we have launched an experimental fishing scheme according to a joint protocol envisaging one trip a week using bottom wide-mesh gillnets, each with a maximum length of 1,000 meters, which the fishers stretch out to reach lengths of up to 40,000 meters. It’s interesting to note that the nets have a 33 mm mesh, while the compulsory EU minimum was 22 mm. When Europe imposed the larger mesh size, many fishermen went on strike but ours laughed up their sleeves and said ‘We’ve already got 33 mm nets’. Another nice thing about our fishermen is that they wait every morning with a researcher and our personnel to measure the fish, performing a monitoring activity that allows us to alter our fishing methods, if necessary. So what has all this work led to? The first catch after the ban was epic and one fisherman wept because he hadn’t seen so much fish in the nets since he was a kid. We had managed to increase the fish population by 400%. Going out to fish once in the reserve was the equivalent of going out to sea four times. Today the ratio has settled at round two- to threefold.
Area A of the reserve is also a veritable nursery, fish eggs being brought in by the currents all along the Adriatic and Ionian coasts. The upshot is that we ensure fish for the whole region. Another source of pride is the long life cycle of the fish that live in the reserve, where red mullet of ten years of age and white sea bream of over 30 have been caught. In the case of gray mullet, we have decided to wait until October to fish them, after they have laid their eggs. In this way we ensure that the population is regenerated, not to mention the availability over large-sized fish for which the chefs of the area compete and from which our fishermen make good earnings. Another way we have of making sure of economic sustainability is by training the fishermen to work as environmental educators in schools and inside the protected area. The most important point to note is that Torre Guaceto has become a workshop of biodiversity and sustainability, collaborating with the University of Gastronomic Sciences and in close contact with Slow Food, which is developing a number of projects in the area. One such is the production of Oro del Parco, an organic olive oil. Now, with the help of Slow Food, farmers who used to work intensively and gather their olives from the ground have now converted to organic methods.
The reserve also boasts two Slow Food Presidia: Artisan Fishing and the Torre Guaceto Fiaschetto Tomato, the latter a project that works and generates income. We are trying to bring in new producers every year; this year, for example, we have involved a young man of 30 who used to work as a cook but has now decided to become a farmer. Today about 40% of the hectares of the reserve’s arable land are farmed organically.
As for climate change, we suffer from it like everyone else. Among other things, we’ve had to cope with an invasion of bluefish of up to 50/70 cm in length (in Turkey they are fighting to have the minimum length increased from the present 14 cm). These fish are great predators and risk jeopardizing the natural balance of the reserve. We need to fish them and we already have ideas about how to turn the crisis into an opportunity. It comes naturally to us.