The fishing heritage of the Messolonghi-Aitolikon lagoons in Western Greece: Creating a common vision for sustainable development

Authors and Affiliations: 

Lily Mordechai (Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos)
Alexis Katsaros (Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos)

Corresponding author: 
Lily Mordechai

Formed within the double delta of two rivers, Acheloos and Evinos, the Messolonghi-Aitolikon lagoons create one of the largest lagoon systems in the northern Mediterranean coast of great biodiversity value. Humans and nature have long co-existed in and around this Ramsar site (1), as evidenced through its significant cultural heritage. At the centre of the lagoon’s landscape are its fishermen whose lifeways create and maintain a unique yet dynamic landscape which embodies both local traditions and the story of adaptation through time. The fishermen are organised in ten fishing cooperatives and still use traditional fishing techniques –called ivari or divari– creating natural fish farms within the lagoon with the use of fish traps. The Messolonghi bottarga (avgotaracho), produced in a small scale by these traditional fisheries, is one of Greece’s most emblematic delicacies.

The project envisions the creation of a resilient community that values and actively safeguards its natural and fishing heritage for a sustainable future through a set of cumulative actions on a local and international level. At the local level, the project has initiated wide dialogue between fishermen, businessmen, authorities and other key agents on issues related to safeguarding traditional lagoon fisheries, aiming to (re)define their role in the new socio-economic context. Consensus is gradually being built in an attempt to form a wide partnership and unite local agents under a common vision that places the area’s fishing heritage and its traditional fishermen at the epicentre of any development venture. Along these lines, the idea of creating a Multifunctional Fishing Hub is being explored through a feasibility study that aims to define the scope, requirements, technical specifications, partnership structure and overall sustainability of such an endeavour. In addition, the project has also initiated an educational campaign in local schools that aims to contribute to the creation of a new generation that a) learns the values of democracy and the principle of consensus; and b) loves and appreciates its natural and cultural heritage. Culminating in a Role Playing Game on wetland management, this educational activity experientially teaches students not only the complexity of managing shared natural resources but also the value of dialogue and team work.

To raise awareness to a diverse national and international audience and to provide a record of traditional fishing practices, the project is in the process of creating an online photographic exhibition and an ethnographic film. Visual storytelling is the objective of both these activities that aim to enlighten, with a different approach and using different media, the story of the lagoon and its fishermen.

The project runs under the Mediterranean Consortium for Nature and Culture and is funded by the MAVA Foundation.

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