Kaljani - the best fishermen in the world

There is no family in Kali where there is no one fisherman. The tradition of fishing is in the genes of Kaljani, and the vista of the place is impossible without fishing nets, countless fish boxes, the wise eyes of sea wolves, the ever-present cat guards and the clicking of seagulls.

The people of Kali have been fishing on the Adriatic since time immemorial, but the difficult fishing life and poverty have taken many to other seas. Knowing in detail the methods of catching sardines and tuna, they improved and taught fishermen in Panama, the United States and Australia. During socialist Yugoslavia, Kaljani became fishing advisers and instructors in non-aligned countries, Iran, Turkey. Many were happy to have the Kaljani on their ships. The dynamic catch of tuna is what Kaljani are known for, and so it was fished in Lamjana Bay, by trawl nets, where the Cromaris hatcheries are today. There, the nets were pulled by fishermen in the form of traditional tuna fishing until Kali was visited by Ante Viličić from Bol on the island of Brač.

In 1920, Viličić went to his brother in San Pedro, USA. On the California tuna fishing boats, Viličić gained experience and knowledge, but with a tear in his eye because he always remembered how much the modernization of tuna fishing would contribute to fishermen in the homeland. Eight years later, he returned to his native Brač and installed the first motor tuna boat in the Adriatic and the Mediterranean under the name Napredak (Progress). Ante Domančić from Hvar will then make the first modern boat for fishing the small bluefish, according to Viličić's prototype. It should be noted that at that time there were only two ways of catching tuna in the entire Mediterranean: with panula and standing nets (Italian: tonnara). This way of catching tuna existed in ancient times and did not change significantly until the fifties of the twentieth century.

In 1937, there were only six motor tuna boats on the Adriatic. In addition to "Napredak" from Bol, there were three tuna fishing boats from Kali on the island of Ugljan: "Vitlov", "Tunolovac" and "Kolega", next to "Sv. Ivan" from Crikvenica. The first Italian motor tuna boat appeared only in 1950. In Italy in the 1950s, coastal tuna fishing with standing tuna nets was still dominant. In Greece, rowing boats in tuna nets are still used, and in France and Spain, tuna fishing with a panula dominates. This is the context in which the significance of Viličić's venture should be considered when he decided to apply his experience gained in America in his homeland, as well as the development of Kali tuna fishing. The struggle between traditional and modern tuna fishing persisted until the 1950s, when the population of Kali accepted new methods en masse, and practically from the Second World War until independent Croatia, only Kaljani were tuna hunters. The ship Vitlov was later renamed the Pobjednik (Champion) because in the 1950s it caught four tons of tuna in just one day. Unfortunately, the Pobjednik is no more today, but the other two ships are still sailing.

Speaking of tuna, many connoisseurs will point to Port Lincoln, an Australian city that is rumoured to be the capital of the seafood, tuna and tuna processing industry. But it was Port Lincoln who carried his title because of the Kali fishermen who settled there. Although Australians are proud of their fishing town, it should be noted that 80 per cent of quotas are held by Kaljani for fishing in general and 93 per cent for tuna. Knowledge from Australia was returned to Kali in 1996 when the first tuna farm opened in Croatia and Europe.

The story of Kali fishermen around the world cannot pass without the great Ante Dundov Kongo. It is quite certain that Kongo was one of the largest and most important fishermen of the 20th century in the world. He launched American tuna fishing in the Pacific in the 1950s. Namely, the Americans then fished in the waters of the Caribbean, especially around Panama, and in the Atlantic Ocean. The resourceful Dundov, who is said to have caught over three thousand tons of fish in his lifetime, realized that there is a whole wealth on the west coast of America. He invited his Kaljani to stay on tuna boats for a couple of years, but he obliged them than to return home and invest their earnings in a better life. They all signed a three-month contract and then returned to Kali. The story goes that Kongo's old mother told him that he would take all the people out of Kali and that no one would be left to bury her. Those words prompted Kongo to think about the well-being of the island.


American and Japanese tuna fishermen set out to get a Kali crew. Exactly 253 Kaljani worked in America in the company of a Komiža man named ZiCompany. He had 13 ships and the whole crew was from Kali. Kongo led them, and their main ports were Samoa and Guam. An anecdote from Osaka confirms the strength of Kali fishermen. Japanese fishermen have asked Kongo how many millions of Kali people have, given that there are as many as 250 of the best fishermen in the world currently on their ships. When the Kongo replied that Kali had only 700 inhabitants, the Japanese simply could not believe it.

Both before and today, Kali is the largest fishing fleet on the Adriatic. Each boat tells its own story and remembers each ripple on the high seas, according to the fishing positions that the expert fishing eye recognizes at any time of the year. In the former state, the Kali fleet took 25 per cent of the catch, and even today it is no different. Sailing around the world has built this place, many houses have been given a new look, and new ships have been invested in. They used the tuna net boats the most, as Nina Mrkonja reminds us in her work: “Today, the tuna net boats (plivarica) is most used in Kali, and Kali has one of the largest fleets of plivarica on the Adriatic, as many as 21 (of which 12 are over 24 meters), which is 10% of the total number of plivarica in Croatia, and there are eight more Kali vessels with standing nets. In Kali, a modern small net of plivarica is also called a cannastrela (kanaštrela)."