Memories on the recovery of a Mediterranean fishing village and coastline - by Totti Könnölä and Matthias Weber
Francesco is once again on his terrace and letting his mind drift along with the sea view. After retiring from the European Commission in 2045, he moved back to the Italian village where he grew up. He has something important to tell Salvatore, his old schoolmate who never left the town but followed the family tradition as a fisherman. Francesco delves quickly into his old memories of the collapse of fish stocks, the establishment of a local marine protected area (MPA) and the more recent boom of kelp permaculture farming and tourism. In the mid-2020s, fish stocks collapsed, and Salvatore, among other fishers, had difficulty earning a living for his family. Satellite-based high-tech systems were introduced to monitor the fish stocks. Still, the technological upgrading was of little help to the underlying problems of over-fishing. Alternative economic opportunities were scarce. The regional government was slow, and European funding for new regional development initiatives disappeared in the pockets of intermediaries, investors and politicians. Francesco still remembers vividly the surprise call of Salvatore asking for help and inviting him onto the boat to witness the scant catch in his nets when returning home from the sea. At the time, Francesco was working for the economic development office of the regional government. Up to this day, his words to Salvatore remain crystal clear in his mind: “Complain to the central government and organise among yourselves, the fishermen, to defend your future. There is little I can do from where I am.” Time passed, and Francesco moved to Brussels in the late 2020s to pick up a new job at the European Commission. He almost forgot the issue until he came across the representative of Spain who told him about the enormous economic success of a marine protected area in Catalonia in the areas of Islas Medas. The long-term protection of fish stock and marine life had created an attractive diving destination and tourism business and a remarkably positive impact on the neighbouring fishing zones with increased supplies. With enthusiasm, he connected with the Spaniards and brought them to discussions with the local authorities of his hometown. However, at first, the encounters lead to no support for replicating such an experience. The fishermen felt that while the Marine protected area 45 Part 2: Oceans (MPA) could create benefits in the long run, it would not provide enough for their families in the immediate future. Despite the drawback, Francesco kept on thinking of the success in Islas Medas and continued to urge his hometown people, including Salvatore, to find a solution together. In one of his routine meetings in Brussels, he met with a consortium of impact investors, who were familiar with other similar promising initiatives and accepting reasonable payback periods of investment. With the help of Francesco, the impact investors began talks with hometown representatives which led to the development of the MPA and diverse new economic activities jointly with local stakeholders. After the initial euphoria from receiving the new investments, the commitment of the locals to implementing initiatives started to wane. New actions were too slow in generating returns. Many abandoned the project and even lobbied for dismantling the MPA. Only a few locals witnessed tangible benefits in diving centres and tourism support, while most, especially the full-time fishermen, continued to struggle to put food on the table. Keeping the faith, Francesco and local enthusiasts started seeking support from international spheres. The project was found to be aligned with the work of a recently established combined working group of FAO and UNEP, which brought invaluable broader institutional support and guidance. The local coalition learned about vertical permaculture kelp forests and new international funding opportunities. The newfound initiatives expanded, diversifying local community activities in the MPA and its surroundings. Francesco advised the regional government to co-design with stakeholders a programme for the fishermen and other interested parties. The diverse and sustainable programme was celebrated widely in the community thanks to the excellent uptake of kelp permaculture forests and MPA management with various activities to increase economic development and parallel the fish stock recovery. The programme offered new avenues also for Salvatore, Francesco’s fisherman friend. While he could observe a gradual increase in their fish catches, he spent much more time at sea showing divers and other tourists the richness of marine wildlife. And while this has never been his passion, he collaborated with a cousin of his who specialised in kelp farming and moved into industrial kelp food processing and delivery. As he was also part of the environmental monitoring team in the MPA, his upgraded boat was equipped with the latest monitoring technology and connected to the satellite that served as a data collection unit for all the monitoring boats. Life changed a lot for Salvatore and the other fishermen. Still, they preserved at least part of their culture, traditions and lifestyle while expanding into new ventures. While the initial MPA created a sanctuary for many fish, it was not until kelp farming started offering excellent environmental conditions that the fish stocks truly recovered. With time, kelp farming also initiated a whole new local industry with a portfolio of food, pharmaceutical and textile products. Also, the MPA was gradually extended stepwise across several jurisdictions to comprise larger stretches along the coast. In 2050, it raises some 50 44 46 47 Part 2: Oceans miles out to the sea or even further in the vicinity of some local islands. Francesco comes back from his memories as he hears the voice of Salvatore. The old friends share a big hug. After some good laughs, Francesco starts explaining the invitation from the FAO/UNEP working group to come and present the lessons learned from the recovery of their fishing village and coastline. After some discussion, Francesco and Salvatore agree to go together to the meeting and submit their case as an example for other regions to learn about the sustainable management of common resources. Hopefully, their insights will help others to accelerate the change processes they need. There are plenty of good ideas, but as Francesco and Salvatore have experienced, managing change takes a lot of time, courage and patience.