Pula and Poreč (West coast of Istria, Northern Adriatic) were identified as the Croatian Case Study locations (ports were chosen on the base of the presence of Small-Scale fisheries, availability of a venue for the main Event, contacts with the fishers, logistic issues…); whole list of the vessels/fishers/companies/associations is checked. Among the contacted fishers, a local one was elected for supporting the preparation of the meetings. All local SSF fishers were initially contacted and was decided to organize the 1st meeting on 13th July, coinciding with LIFE Platform (Low Impact Fishers of Europe) delegation visit to Croatia. Although the 1st meeting was split in two locations due to logistics reasons, it was decided that the second one together with the main event will be take place in one location depending on the local arrangements.

Simone Serra (UNIMAR) and Marzia Piron (MEDAC) were present on the first meeting. After short welcome speech and the CS facilitators introduction to fishers, the meeting started with our agenda. First of all, the Project was introduced through brief presentation prepared by Simone Serra and presented by Sanja Matic-Skoko (the Croatian Case Study facilitator). Fishers were familiarized with project objectives, methodology, general activities, the Case Studies details and expected outputs and results together with the possibilities or channels for communication during the project duration.

After that, Sanja Matić-Skoko (the CS facilitator) displayed a presentation regarding SSF framework on the European level (institutions, legislation, role of science, DCF, facts about SSF in the Mediterranean countries) and national level (institutions, legislation, national facts about SSF), funding and opportunities for the stakeholders. This was not in the form of a classical presentation but was open to questions, interventions, comments and discussion with the fishers. This presentation was also proposed at the very beginning and supported by all the participants.

During the discussion, several issues have surfaced as main problems of local SSF:

  • competition with large or industrial fisheries working with bottom trawl, purse seiners and dredges both for space and resources but also for market;
  •  competition for space with other SSF and recreational fishers;
  • unfair competition with recreational fisheries who very often work outside the legal framework;
  • competition with dolphins;
  • competition with touristic operations with speedy boats and other vessels in small ports during summer months;
  • finding new channels for placing catch on the market;
  • finding ways for better surveillance of fisher’s activities on sea by local authorities.

Limited institutional capability to effectively conduct surveillance and monitoring of fishing activities, particularly in the case of SSF fishers (large number of landing ports, inspections not frequent enough to encourage compliance), for sure it implies that certain portion of total catch are unreported, ending up directly in the restaurants or on the black market. A negative perception of EU and national policy was found to significantly and adversely influence the behavior and emotional response of fishers, which, as consequence, influences their resilience. Fishers feel excluded from the decision-making process and with low confidence with the outcomes of policy making. They feel lost and forced to give up the tradition to which, they believe, are entitled to. In their mind, policy makers don’t recognize regional and local natural and geographical characteristics. Further, they highlighted that social goals are almost completely neglected.

Although, at some moments, the discussion was deviated from the main project focus as expected, it was believed to let them express their opinion in order to stimulate the discussion and the information sharing useful for the project purposes. After all, listed problems are those issues where we expect the fishermen raise their voice once they engage in the decision-making and advisory processes both on national and regional level. So, we think that all of this could be a good introduction in our 2nd meeting where we will actively involve them and collect information through semi-structured interviews and questionnaire.

We will try to convince them that we must jointly find a way to more involve them in the decision-making process so as the policy perception to be positive and resilience to be enhanced. Above all, we agree with them that equity has to be ensured, both at national, regional and international level. For sure, there is a difference in what the fishermen perceive as involvement depending on the fact whether they were involved through formal advisory committees or public meetings. Many fishers believed that they were involved in the decision-making process because they attended some fisheries meetings in the local community. Since tensions are always present on such occasions, fishers that experienced such incidences are agitated, frustrated or apathetic and hesitant. They believed that they had little control over their working future, did not feel respected and did not trust that decisions are made in their best interest. In contrast, those involved in advisory committees at national level were more likely to believe that they would be able to incorporate the required changes in their working activity and adapt to them. So, those fishers perceive their involvement as “meaningful”. Such facts are certainly something that we should consider when facilitating the process of enhancing their participatory role. But, without doubt, such approach will support the development of better national fisheries management strategies since fishermen knowledge can provide invaluable practical information. In addition, before the second meeting, a short info with leaflet and presentation will be sent to the local administration bodies, authorities, professional associations, research institutes to inform them about the project activities.

In the occasion of the participation of the project coordinators in the Istrian preparatory events, meetings with LIFE Platform representatives while their visit in Croatia (Marta Cavallé and Jeremy Percy) were organized on the same day, agreeing a two-way collaboration between ArtFISHMed and LIFE.