THE TORTOLÌ FISHERMEN COOPERATIVE

SARDINIA, LAND OF LAGOONS

Sardinia is not very known for its humid environment yet still this is a characteristic feature in the landscape of the island. It is even so that the lagoons, coastal lakes and ponds in Sardinia are amongst the largest in Europe. The Fishermen’s Cooperative, the only fish dealership in the Tortoli’ lagoon, was founded in the 1940s with the association of fishermen who have always worked within the waters of the lagoon. The fishermen control all production and they also manage the processing plant that generates the other fish related products. They also employ various catering activities, both on site as in the nearby town of Tortoli’. Next to all of these activities they are active in major scientific research and have an extensive educational curriculum, working and collaborating with schools of all types and levels. All in all an extensive range of services offered to the public as well as to the community.

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Welcome letter from Luca Cacciatori, current president of the Cooperative

OUR HISTORY

THE ORIGIN

The Tortolì Fishermen’s Cooperative was founded by thirteen fishermen, some from Tortoli’ and the others coming from the island of Ponza near Napels. The Ponza fishermen arrived in Arbatax in the late 1800s. At that moment they were predominantly known for their sea fishing. Once in the Ogliastra area, they also found an excellent resource in the rich waters of the Tortoli’ lagoon. Especially during the winter season, as they were unable to go out into the open sea due to adverse weather conditions, they were able to rely on lagoon fishing, which has always proved very generous and profitable.
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The fishermen of Tortolì, like most Sardinians back in the days, were not very frequent users of the open sea, but were more dedicated to fishing in the inland waters with techniques handed down from generation to generation. So in this way the contribution and the knowledge of travelling fishermen helped a lot because they shared their experience and techniques. This all came together with the already existing ways and became this multifaceted way of harvesting fish and fish related products.
Historically important was the fact that the initiators obtained the right and privilege to use the lagoon and be active in the exploitation of the fish stocks. In an effort to make the most of the good that they had been granted, they transferred the techniques and knowledge they possessed to the local fishermen, in this way contributing to a massive increase in their professional competence.
In the 1940s, this heterogeneous team of fishermen decided, pushed and propelled by Dr. Pirastu, a well-known local pharmacist, to join and form the Tortolì Fishermen Cooperative to shape a de facto organization. This organization enabled them to better coordinate all fishing activities within the lagoon. In this way they could reach the goal of being autonomous and not being dependent on others that controlled the market and therefore the prices. They now had their own future in their hands.
As stated before, in the 1940s the Cooperative started its activities in the lagoon. The authorization came from a private, natural person who, in his turn, was working together with a national company that held the concession that was issued by the ministry of transportation. This concession was the so-called famous ‘Mar Piccolo’. As a result of this legal construction there were several legal disputes that ended after a few years with the expulsion of the ‘Mar Piccolo’ and the concession of use of the lagoon was transferred to a private person that originated from the city of Cagliari.

All the way till the end of the 40s the people that worked within the cooperative had to deal with the situation that a private person owned the concession. Clearly this led to some issues as this cohabitation proved to be problematic for the management of the association. It appeared that the needs of an individual did not match those of the emerging cooperative that consisted out of around eighty people at that time. Especially the fact that these eighty fishermen had to give up fifty percent of their catch (and therefore earnings) to one single person made for a troublesome atmosphere and created heavy tensions.
This came to the point that the fishermen launched a strike in the early 50s. They were ready just to do anything to obtain the exclusive rights to the concession. They even occupied the lagoon and barricaded themselves, not letting anybody enter. This attracted the attention of regional media, political authorities and local judicial authorities. The strike and occupation of the terrain lasted for weeks and had some moments of great tension. Final result was that the cooperative won the rights to the concession for exclusive use of the lagoon. They parted with the person who held the concession before by offering him a fair deal to which all agreed. In this way they bought him out of the concession making it their own for the future. Finally they could start to exclusively harvest the lagoon which, year in and year out, turned out to be one of the fish-richest waters of the island.

DEVELOPMENT AND WASTE

In the early 1960s, a major event radically shaped their history. The paper mill. The construction and start-up of the large paper mill was certainly a boost for the local economy, but its powerplant and the waste it produced had an impact on the environment and therefore the fishing. To compensate the negative effects that the new mill had on the fishermen community the factory management decided to give the fishermen’s children the chance to be hired and get a job at the new mill. This at least partially calmed their discontent. In the meantime, the lagoon reacted to the environmental attack by the new mill and its waste. It actually continued to give a lot of fish to the members of the cooperative, both in the large fish-pond called ‘Pischera manna’ in Baccasara as well as in the small fish-pond called ‘Pischeredda’ which can be found close to the meeting between the salty waters of the pond and the waters of the sea at the end of the Baccasara channel.
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If the paper mill wasn’t enough setback for the fishing industry to overcome, the early 1970s saw the arrival of another big company that had major impact on the fragile and delicate ecosystem of the lagoon. Intemare Sarda, a company that built platforms for offshore oil exploration, made its way into the area. In order to make place for the construction of the large metalworking site, almost the entire Baccasara Canal was destroyed. This channel extended all the way to the base of the Spanish tower that is still there in the heart of the small village of Arbatax. With all this destruction came an end to a beautiful corner of this world. It was a place where, for more than a century and a half, all the passengers, that came by train from central Sardinia, completed their long and winding journey to arrive at Arbatax, right at the coast.
It was around that time that they constructed the opening to the sea on the west bank, maintaining the connection that the lagoon had with the sea. In this new construction it was also implemented to connect all fishing-ponds with the sea.
But since times change, also climate changes and the impact that humans had on the environment began to strongly influence the lagoon and the fishing activities. And, even though the Cooperative was maintaining production and quality standards amongst the highest in Sardinia, there was always fish mortality. Probably because of the changes made in the supply of fresh water and poor oxygenation as a result of this. But, rather than addressing the root of this problem by eliminating the waste water that was compromising the pond and the environment, a compromise with nature was sought. In the late 70s, the supply of fresh water from the sea was increased by creating another sea intake about a km from the first one. It was connected to the fishing ponds as well as the reservoir thus solving the problems of oxygen starvation during the summer season. What was not considered, or perhaps it was but not openly, was that at this moment the reservoir was actually transformed into a lagoon with more and more salt water and less and less sweet water.
It became clear pretty soon, that the day the supply of sweet water of the river Rio Mirenu diminished, the pond started its transformation from reservoir to lagoon. Even though Rio Mirenu continued to perform well by bringing in sweet and fresh water, man did not do the same. In the mid-1980s the Santa Lucia Dam came about in the area upstream of the aforementioned river. Its arrival started a slow decline in the productivity of the now Tortolì lagoon, which saw more and more types of fish typical for brackish water such as mullets, gobies, eels and so on, making way for more marine species such as the mullet, white bream, sea bream, sea bass and even groupers.

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” ― Vincent Van Gogh

THE REVIVAL OF LATELY

The fishermen, who were naturally used to sailing in rough waters, did not give up in the face of adversity but instead they prepared for a change of strategy and created and developed alternative forms of work such as mussel farming, oyster farming and aquaculture. In the late 1980s, even if it was only commissioned in 1995, they built a modern mussel purification and packaging plant. This enabled them to engage in this type of activities in accordance with new EU laws and regulations as these became more and more stringent in the aspect of health and hygiene.
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They were well aware though that this was just not good enough. New times brought new marketing techniques and the globalization forced them to take measures. They decided to embark on a different adventure that made them one of the biggest and innovative fishing cooperatives, unique in Sardinia and perhaps in the whole of Italy. Since they were the first fishermen Cooperative in Sardinia, and even maybe in Italy, the fishermen well understood the importance of this transition phase between production and marketing. They therefore applied this concept later, in 2005, by creating a modern facility-center for the production, processing and marketing of fish and fish-related products. In these facilities they made daily efforts to maximize the production and facilitate the work of the fishermen for greater efficiency and better results.