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Slow Fish 2011 – against illegal fishing and for healthy marine ecosystems

by Cornelia E. Nauen

Now in its fifth edition, Slow Fish is a bi-annual fair in the port city of Genoa. The international gathering from 27 to 30 May 2011 featured educational, cultural, scientific and gastronomical events spread out over four days inviting professionals and the public at large. This year, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, opened Slow Fish as a guest of honour joining in the drive to promote sustainable fisheries, fighting wide-spread illegal operations and rebuilding degraded marine ecosystems. Thousands of visitors enjoyed the diverse programme, food and critical discussions.

The culinary programme was a real treat from staples such as mackerel (Scomber scombrus) and European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) deliciously presented to slow sushi - without tuna - and stockfish (Gadus morhua).

All the same, it turned out not to be easy even for those committed to responsible fishing and marketing to escape some of the fads, originally pushed by the health industry. The beautifully framed anchovy below highlights the Omega-3 content, long dismantled as a wonder 'drug'.

The many companies showing their wares and services allowed the mostly urbanised visitors to reconnect to a part of the marine world they have often lost touch with. Far from romantising fisheries, they showed the more artisanal face of the industry, working hard to demonstrate that business and high quality of product, specificity and respect for nature can go very well hand in hand. A bit disturbingly, however, not all fresh fish on sale respected the minimum size at which different species can reproduce. It was evident though that a lot of effort had gone into presenting the most responsible side of the industry and engaging the public in learning about the ecosystems and appreciating the craftmanship involved in respectfully handling the produce.

Approaching the sea from the perspective of recreation and playful learning was another entry point with particular emphasis on sustainable tourism, promoting marine protected areas and cultural products associated with the sea.

The specific educational part had a bookshop, practical cooking presentations, lectures and much more. A training road, with many practical demonstrations by indefatigably artisanal fishers and illustrated with attractive posters, introduced the urban visitors to the ins and outs of responsible fishing and nature protection.

Practical demonstrations also showed the magnificent art of building set nets from natural materials that are energy efficient (as they are not being dragged like trawls) and highly selective.

The four-day fair in splendid weather overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea was a treat for body and soul and a good opportunity to bond with old and new friends and all those who care about the sea, find out about curiosities, warnings about malpractice, but also the unrivalled beauty of nature.

Mundus maris contributed directly to two workshops, one on fishing in Africa and one on traceability.