Slow Fish begins, making Genoa a lighthouse for all the Mediterranean

Slow Fish opens with a bold aim: to make Genoa the capital of a Mediterranean-wide process of dialogue between fishers and scientists to save the sea.

Politicians, scientists and fishers come together at Slow Food to launch good practices which must be adopted widely and consistently in order to secure a sustainable future.

The ninth edition of Slow Fish opened this morning in Genoa, organized by Slow Food and the Region of Liguria. This year the focus of the event is the actions that we can all take in order to protect the sea. As a common good for all humanity, we must transform the advice of scientists into government policy and widespread public practice.

“Researchers would like the political and economic powers to listen to us, and to play their indispensable part in enacting a radical paradigm shift,” said Silvio Greco, President of the Slow Fish scientific committee. “We’ve been sounding the alarm for years, but we haven’t seen nearly enough change. It’s time to open our eyes to the truth: we can’t afford to treat the sea as a container, we have to consider it as the extraordinary living organism that it is. The sea is becoming a dumping ground. We talk about islands of plastic—one of these is as big as France—but these floating plastic islands are only 5% of the plastic in the sea, because the majority has sunk to the seabed.”

Photo: Paolo Properzi, Alessandro Vargiu

Roberto Danovaro of the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station in Naples thinks considering the sea in economic terms might help politicians to effect meaningful change. “The sea sustains a significant part of the world’s GDP and creates millions of jobs. We have precise numbers regarding its value. A hectare of Neptune seagrass is worth €23,000 a year, and in recent decades we’ve destroyed 84% of the underwater meadows. It’s like transforming forest into desert: we’re losing billions of euros because of bad management of the sea. But is it even possible to manage the sea without knowing it? We don’t know where all the meadows are, which zones are polluted, we’re not even making much effort to map it. There’s a real and urgent to know more about the state of the sea’s health, if we want to be able to protect it efficiently.”
Paola Del Negro—Italian Institute for Oceanography—reinforced the idea that we shouldn’t consider the sea’s problems as separate, but as a complex whole: “Plastic, acidification, temperature rise, oil slicks… each time we focus on one emergency, then pass on to the next one. That doesn’t mean we’ve resolved the problem we’re no longer talking about. They’re all connected. The most recent alarm regards the presence of invasive species in our sea: in the Adriatic the warty comb jelly has become a serious problem, and it fills the sea in summer. It’s a voracious consumer of zooplankton, so it steals food from the other fish, and eats fish larvae too, hitting them twice over.”

Cutting the ribbon. Photo: Paolo Properzi, Alessandro Vargiu

Carlo Petrini, the President of Slow Food, responded to a desire expressed by the Mayor of Genoa for a permanent Slow Fish presence in the city, so that the event is not simply a biennial meeting: “Genoa could be the capital of marine management strategy for the entire Mediterranean, with a permanent Slow Fish space which focuses on creating a better relationship between institutions, fishing communities and scientists. If this idea gains support at the local and national level, Genoa can become the home of a new dialogue, a new concept of regeneration for the Mediterranean Sea which emphasizes harmony among all the stakeholders, and a lighthouse for us all. Our culture must guide our economy, and not the other way around. We destroy our culture by chasing economic goals. Bringing all the politicians together from across the Mediterranean wouldn’t solve anything unless the small-scale fishers, the Slow fishers, are here too, in a dialogue focused on securing a sustainable future.”

In a second conference on the Italian government’s Marine Strategy, Carlo Petrini once again underlined the importance of the traditional knowledge of small-scale fishers and their historically sustainable practices which are being pushed ever closer to the brink of extinction. “We’re finally seeing the emergence of an environmentally-conscious social movement, as represented by Greta Thunberg and Fridays For Future, with the kind of momentum that’s capable of forcing change at the highest levels. Their energy is admirable and we must do what we can to help them. They have the desire to save the planet, but how well do they know it? We have a lot of useful knowledge from 30 years of Slow Food which they are going to need: about the geography of our seas, about aquaculture, about small-scale traditional fishing communities. The sea is a common good, which is precisely why it’s all too easy to ignore its problems, but with the situation as critical as it is, we urge the emerging youth climate movement to develop a holistic vision of the sea. Slow Food is ready to do its part.”

Andrea Pieroni, Rector of the University of Gastronomic Sciences, reminded those present that grassroots, popular, international collaboration to overcome common problems has precedent in the Mediterranean. He cited the example of the lingua francathe pidgin language of Mediterranean sailors used for hundreds of years. It wasn’t sponsored by any government, nor even written down, but served as a tool to facilitate communication and trade. “We should take inspiration from the wealth of traditional knowledge that thousands of years of human history has developed. Our small-scale fishing communities are the guardians of a unique heritage, living examples of a sustainable approach to the environment which we must learn from. We don’t need to simply invent new forms of marine management; we must look back and learn from the old ones too.”



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