Imraguen are nomad fishers who move their small villages of makeshift huts to follow the movements of large shoals of golden mullet and croaker along the Arguin Bank on the northern coast of Mauritania. Unlike the majority Mauri people-the original Berber population-who practice pastoral farming, Imraguen depend on fishing for their sustenance. The Banc d’Arguin is a Natural Reserve and is peculiar because the deeper water rich in minerals comes to the surface, and it is an ideal breeding ground for every fish.
Only Imraguen are allowed to fish in the park with their lanches, boats with sails and no motor, but in the season when large shoals of mullet are passing, from the end of October to early January, they still use the spectacular traditional method. A dozen or so men get into the water holding a long net that surrounds the shoal of mullet, and close it around them. In the past times, a man from the village would act as a lookout from the shore, and dolphins would help the fishermen to drive the mullet towards the coast.
According to the tradition, men deal with the fishing with nets, while women have always been involved in producing roe, tishtar (small pieces of dried and crumbled mullet) and mullet oil, with a particular technique passed on from mother to daughter. However, traditional fishing without using boats and the sustainable non-polluting method using lanches is threatened by the pressure of industrial fishing boats entering the waters of the Arguin Bank illegally. The waters off Mauritania are among the few left in the world which are still well-stocked with fish. Fishing fleets from Western countries often obtain the fishing rights, employ local fishermen and then freeze the catch to be sent elsewhere for processing, mainly to North Africa and Europe.
Traditional knowledge connected to the transformation of mullet is being lost, resulting in the disappearance of a significant element of Imraguen cultural identity. To prevent this, the NGO Mauritanie 2000 committed to improve existing techniques of transformation of products in this sector, without affecting the socio-cultural reality of these populations.
The Presidium is based on a cooperative of Imraguen women-assisted by a local NGO, Mauritanie 2000-who live in Nouadhibou, the second largest city in Mauritania. The Presidium producers buy mullet from the fishers and transform it. Their work is currently underpaid – the roe is bought for a ridiculously low price by an intermediary and sold abroad-and their production facilities are precarious.
Slow Food, with the collaboration of the Presidium producers of bottarga in Orbetello, is trying to help the Imraguen women to improve the product quality. In 2006 three women visited Orbetello for a training course and some Italian fishermen went to Nouadhibou to help equip a small workshop. The objective is to find alternative markets and directly manage the sale of transformed products.
Find out more in the video (in Italian) below: