Virus outbreak hurts Italian fishermen’s business

FIUMICINO, Italy (AP) – Italy’s fishermen still go out to sea at night, but not as frequently in recent weeks since demand is down amid the country’s devastating coronavirus outbreak.

As a result, they are barely covering their expenses.

An elderly fisherman sits on the dock in the harbor at Fiumicino, a Rome suburb. He fixes a fishing net while waiting for trawlers to return from their night at sea. He and his assistant wear face masks to protect themselves against coronavirus, even though they are the only two people around.

On sunny days, people would normally be strolling along the wharf of this town near Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport. But since the Italian government ordered a nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19, the area is practically deserted.

For one night, an Associated Press photographer accompanied fisherman Pasquale Di Bartolomeo and his two-man crew on their trawler, the Marianna. Their catch goes to the Silver Fish cooperative in Fiumicino for auction.

Workers, wearing protective masks, carry crates of fish to the Silver Fish wholesale auction house, at Fiumicino fishing port, on the outskirts of Rome. PHOTO: AP

Di Bartolomeo has been a fisherman for 42 years. Before the lockdown, he’d go out to sea five nights a week. But that has decreased to three nights because the cooperative has suffered a 30 per cent-40 per cent drop in demand.

While supermarkets and fish shops can participate in the auctions, restaurants are closed during the lockdown, diminishing the demand for their catch.

Di Bartolomeo said going out three times a week isn’t enough to make a profit and the earnings hardly cover boat maintenance costs and his employees’ salaries.

The three fishermen work constantly through the night and into the daylight, pulling up their nets every two hours. They are full of fish, including bluefish, octopus, calamari, shrimp and the occasional angler. They select the fish, clean them and neatly put them in boxes for unloading once they return to shore.

The harbour is suddenly busy again for the few minutes it takes to unload the fish.

The only sounds are the fishermen speaking to each other when the boat comes into port, engine still running, and the wheels of the trolley carrying the fish to the auction house. A television screen set up outside the auction house keeps buyers apart in keeping with government-ordered social-distancing measures.

When the catch reaches the auction room, all goes quiet again.