A Piece of the Ancient Mediterranean Lives On

24 Jul 2014

Who’s heard of the Mediterranean Prud’homies, local fishing management institutions that have existed in France for over ten centuries? Unfortunately, very few people have. Only those who have encountered them by chance or who live in the vicinity…
And yet, in a time where it is widely acknowledged that within the world of food production, fishing is the most complex and challenging sector, here is an example of a system that works. It is a time-tested model that fits in with the territory, passes on traditional knowledge and skills, and allows for fair and flexible case-by-case management of problems. It does all this without government funds, while still assuring real economic benefits to the local communities. Why then, is it still so largely unknown and ignored?
In France, for the purposes of fishing, the Mediterranean coast is divided into 33 adjacent maritime “corridors”. Each of these is managed by a community of fishers who elect three to five prud’hommes from among their members. Those elected are given authority to manage and sanction local fishing activities according the rules established by the entire community. These rules give priority to the smallest scale fishers, those who catch the least amount of fish, so as “to allow everyone to live off of his work.” They also prioritize fishing techniques that are most constrained by time and space, so as “to avoid that one fishing technique precludes another.” By establishing limitations for each type of fishing art, the rules encourage the fishermen to be more versatile. This practice allows certain species and fishing areas to rest, while also giving fishers greater adaptability to variations in resources and local market demands.
For ten centuries, this institution has proven that, contrary to popular belief (which is also promoted by those who want to privatize common goods), the so-called tragedy of the commons is not inevitable. Rather, when conditions allow (the attitude of supervising authorities and market conditions play a key role here), real “strategies of the commons” can be put in place, which preserve the resource while providing a fair distribution of the profits, preserving both employment and culture throughout the territories.
For all these reasons Slow Food is proud to announce the creation of a new Presidium: Mediterranean Prud’homie of Sanary. This new project emphasizes an incredible and unique intangible heritage, which embraces the inherent complexity through the only sustainable logic: that of territories (a place-based approach).
Our goal is to ensure that more people – from the general public to the French and European leaders – recognize this irreplaceable institution. This will lead the elders who embody this living heritage to be proud of it every day, and pass the torch on to future generations. We also hope to help the fishers weave local networks so as to reinforce their local supply chains.
So if you have the chance, talk to your neighbors about it, talk to your local, national and European leaders about it, and come and try the fish for yourselves: You’ll never find a fresher or more varied catch!
Useful information: The size of the boats ranges from five to twelve meters. Each fisher of Sanary sells products in front of vessels in the harbor at Place de la Liberté.
Click here for more information on the Presidium.


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