The fish stalls at the Mercato di Rialto in Venice: already 900 years ago fishermen were questioning the legitimacy of some fishing. In fact, the minimum length of the different species of fish can influence the destiny of the sea’s population: this is the objective of the Decree 1967/2006, also known as the “Mediterranean Decree” (photo by Vasile)
When, as restaurateurs, we’re about to buy some fish, do we ever wonder if the catch of the day is legal and ethical? Already in 1173 an edict of the Republic of Venice informed consumers on the minimum size of the fish one should buy, imposing precise and strict rules. An ancient plaque at the entrance of the market in Rialto indicates even today the minimal length for the catch of some species of fish in order to preserve their growth: from the 12 centimetres of the bass (today they’ve become 25) to the 3 for mussels (here called peoci). This edict anticipates what 900 years later would be the content of the decree 1967/2006 also known as “Decreto Mediterraneo” (here the complete text).
Old sign out of Rialto market in Venice
Can one extra centimetre alone change the destiny of the catch? Of course not, but in order not to jeopardise the work of thousands of workers everything needs to be applied gradually. For sure, since the decree has been really put into force, it’s more and more rare to find in the markets the so called “frittura di paranza”, that mix of small cod, mullet and brill which, though fantastic when eaten fried (together with the fish bones), if not caught will double their weight allowing us to taste many more larger sized cod, mullet and brill.
As for the restaurateur who buys under-sized fish, he can be forced to pay a big fine, but there are also penal penalties: the purchase of protected species or in a size below the one indicated by the law favours illegal fishing. Unfortunately, while it is clear on earth that it’s best to eat the egg instead of the hen, only few understand that when it comes to the sea it’s best to eat the hen, and not the egg.
The truths of the fish world revealed by Antonio Vasile. Against a thousand lies and dangerous commonplaces