Floods have ravaged northern Italy in recent weeks, with Liguria one of the worst-hit regions. While heavy rains transformed little streams into raging rivers, engulfing villages, towns and entire neighborhoods in Genoa, the coast was assaulted by the fury of a violent sea storm lasting two days.
The waves carried away all the boats in Monterosso, one of the Cinque Terre villages. "The anchovy fishermen leave their boats on the beach during the winter," said Nadia Repetto, Slow Food Liguria's sea and environment adviser. "And when the storm arrived they were taken by surprise. Waves this big haven't been seen in Liguria for years."
The headquarters of the Noli anchovies' fishing cooperative, a Slow Food Presidium, were also badly hit, just a year after they were renovated. "The premises have been literally destroyed," said Marco Bazzardi, the cooperative's president. "The ice machines and fryers we use for the fish festival will have to be scrapped, the electrical wiring will need to be redone and the rooms are full of water and sand." Vittorio Goso, the cooperative's vice-president, added: "I risked drowning on Friday evening. A few days before we had put the boats on the walkway but we didn't think the water would come into our office like this. It won't be easy to clean everything up and start from scratch, but we'll do it."
When the sirens sounded, warning of a very rough sea, many young people came down from the village to help save as much as possible. "I wasn't expecting that solidarity," said fisherman Emilio Garzoglio. "I thought the young people in Noli didn't care about us at all. But they ran to the beach to help us. We could have lost everything."
All along the Ligurian coast are examples of small-scale, traditional fishing that respects the environment, like the Camogli Tonnarella, another Slow Food Presidium. These communities use traditional nets, catch a wide variety of fish and make artisanal products like Monterosso's salted anchovies. Small-scale fishing cooperatives are responsible for a glorious chapter of this region's history.
These days, though, barely a few hundred small-scale fishers are left, and many of them are getting old. This most recent blow risks wiping them out. Along with the fishing communities, the coastal villages of Liguria would lose a piece of history, an economic resource and a valuable culture. And the villages would also lose their soul, surrendering to the inevitable onward flow of concrete, of second homes and hotels. But perhaps those young people who ran down to the beach to save the boats in Monterosso offer a small glimmer of hope.
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