Italian Divers Revive Centuries-Old Tradition to Help Save Perch
November 18, 2023 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Italian Divers Revive Centuries-Old Tradition to Help Save European Perch. Nurseries built from bundles of tree branches may help conserve the freshwater fish in the age of climate change. Beginning in the 17th century, fishermen on Lake Maggiore facilitated the reproduction of the perch by creating underwater fish incubators. These colorful fish reproduce by depositing gelatinous filaments full of eggs along aquatic plants, as detailed in a dissertation on European perch reproduction by wildlife manager Riccardo Lattuada. The 60,000 to 120,000 eggs on each of these jellyfish-like strings, reaching up to 7 feet long, have the best chance of hatching if they are hanging on aquatic plants. “Eggs that are suspended have better access to oxygen compared with eggs on the lake bottom,” says Pietro Volta, a senior researcher in fish ecology at Italy’s National Research Council.

With this in mind, fishermen would place bundles of tree branches on the lake bottom to provide nesting spots for European perch fish.

“People understood that their livelihood depended on restocking the lake,” Guenzi says. At the industry’s peak, thousands of pounds of European perch were caught each day.

Local fishermen remember learning about this tradition from previous generations. “Both my grandfather and my father used to do it,” says professional fisherman Brovelli. The fishers would gather in winter, before the start of the European perch reproductive season in April and May, and turn bundles of tree branches into underwater nurseries. As Brovelli explains, the bundles were plunged to the lake bottom and arranged into 30-foot-tall underwater huts, called legnaie. The structures, secured to the lake bottom with rocks at depths between 30 and 130 feet, provided a safe nesting spot for European perch, a species that specifically looks for aquatic vegetation and submerged wood to spawn. Brovelli remembers older fishermen installing up to 80 incubators in one year.

“This was a heartfelt tradition for the entire community,” Guenzi says, adding that towns would throw festivals to celebrate the beloved winter ritual.

“The legnaie was a tradition arising from a deep understanding of local fish and the environment,” says Stefano Ruffoni, a third-generation fisherman and owner of Ristorante Italia on the Borromean Island known as Fishermen Island (Isola dei Pescatori).

The fishers would use plants like laurel and vine, as they decompose easily and harbor microorganisms that can feed fish in the process.

Once installed, the nurseries required periodic checks and maintenance. As Ruffoni explains, those tending them would lift the bundles out of the water from time to time, cleaning them of mud and debris. “Fishermen would draw maps to remember where each legnaia was located,” Brovelli explains, using lakeside churches or houses as landmarks. Archaeologists have found such maps dating as far back as the 17th century.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries (5 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The "persicam" is absolutely fascinating. Thanks for the post!
posted by chavenet at 9:31 AM on November 18 [3 favorites]

I love seeing these rediscoveries. I just wish it didn't take catastrophe to bring them back.
posted by doctornemo at 2:25 PM on November 18

I loved reading about these perch nurseries and the culture/community surrounding them. Thanks for sharing the article!
posted by blueskies at 6:14 PM on November 18

Nice to learn about. I enjoyed eating "Eggli", as they are called in Switzerland.
posted by Goofyy at 1:48 PM on November 19

The live feed is like watching an aquarium the fish are so tightly packed.
posted by Mitheral at 8:47 AM on November 21

« Older happy birthday mr freeman   |   Baby Animal Break Newer »

You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.