Nina Mrkonja: FLAG Plodovi mora at the service of fishermen and islanders

The Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAG) Plodovi mora (Seafood) is helping to maintain the economic backbone of Kali and sustainable fishing on the Zadar islands. FLAG covers the area of the City of Zadar, which includes smaller islands (Silba, Olib, Iž, Rava, Sestrunj, Rivanj, Molat, Premuda and Ist), and the municipalities of Preko, Kali and Kukljica on the island of Ugljan and the municipality of Sali on Dugi Otok. Nina Mrkonja, a woman from Zagreb who has lived on the island for many years, manages the office of FLAG in the Kali Municipality building. On this occasion, we asked her for an interview.


Ms Mrkonja, we are in beautiful Kali, in the office of the Fisheries Local Action Group Plodovi Mora. How did the idea of founding this FLAG come about and why is the headquarters in Kali?

The whole story about FLAG was started by the Ministry of Agriculture, i.e. the Directorate of Fisheries, on the initiative of the European Commission after Croatia acceded to the European Union, which started the establishment of FLAG along our coast. In Kali, the originator of the idea was the former mayor Duško Vidov, who gathered his acquaintances and fishermen and other stakeholders from the fishing sector, and through a couple of meetings, they tried to come up with the idea of founding FLAG. In February 2016, FLAG Plodovi mora was founded. The headquarters are in Kali because the main stakeholders among the members have their headquarters in Kali or on the island of Ugljan. It would be a pity if the headquarters is somewhere else because Kali still represents the fisheries of Croatia. Kali and Sali are two places in Dalmatia where there is a long tradition of shipbuilding, small-scale fishing, but also large-scale commercial fishing. Here we are closer to the fishermen, although the distance from Zadar is sometimes a problem. In that sense, the island of Ugljan is in a good position because there are numerous and frequent boat and ferry lines that connect the port of Preko with Zadar in 20 minutes of sailing. Such FLAGs aim to help fishermen and other stakeholders in the fisheries economic sector to realize their ideas for better work and life in general.


What is the interest of islanders in FLAG Plodovi mora’s projects?

We have a lot of islands, mostly small and they belong administratively to the City of Zadar. Given that, they are more developed, like the city itself, which is not true. Most of the inhabitants are older, so the fishermen are mostly small, with only a few larger boats. They do not have too much interest in our projects because their lifespan in fishing is ending. We are counting on stronger fishing places such as Kali and Sali, but also in the City of Zadar, given that many islanders live, work or do business in Zadar. There is great interest in the new equipment, and besides, fishermen do not want to be deprived of fishing days and fishing time. FLAG can also provide support in opening new fish restaurants, cleaning the seabed, as additional activities that fishermen rarely come across. We are more contacted by people who are not closely related to fisheries, such as caterers, municipalities, companies, associations.


Can you mention some of the calls for projects you had?

So far we have had two tenders open; one was related to the events, and with these funds, the Kali Fishermen's Nights, Saljske užance and two underwater cleaning actions in the Telašćica Nature Park and the Municipality of Sali were co-financed. Until recently, a tender was opened for fish markets, fish restaurants and gastro-points, to which caterers and fishermen applied. We locals will be proud to open a fish restaurant which, surprisingly, does not exist in Kali.


It would certainly be great to have gastronomic points in Kali. What ideas are evolving in that direction?

Our pilot project in 2016 was the Kali Fish Festival, as the first gastronomic event in Kali other than Fishermen nights. And on the Fishermen nights themselves, there is a gastronomic part called "Eat what is worth", when the sale of fish is organized, also a competition in cooking brodettos, including cooking a large Kali brodetto. At the Kali Fish Festival, we gathered local fishing companies that cooked and sold their products, from salted and marinated anchovies, sardines, tuna or mackerel paté, dried octopus, and they also cooked brodetto, risotto and karamun - an old Kali cuttlefish dish. Kualjski brodetto is special, potatoes are put in it, with a great deal of love. There was great interest in such an event, and guests came from the neighbouring island of Pašman and Zadar. What we would call old dishes are normal and everyday food for people from Kali. Brodetto is prepared at least once a month, although it is harder to get fish or fresh octopus today. By the way, cuttlefish karamun is my favourite Kali dish, and it is probably prepared only in Kali, although it used to be made along the entire coast.


You graduated, and now you are writing a doctorate about Kali fishing and identity. What is the importance of fishing and seafaring in Kali?

That is right, I am doing a PhD on Creating a Kali Identity Based on Kali Fisheries. Long ago, fishing was equally developed throughout the island. It was a small coastal fishing. Then tourism developed in Preko and Kukljica, and the more guests came to those places, the more fishing developed in Kali. The people of Kali went to other seas, gathered experiences there, and always returned to their hometown. For example, Kaljani brought tuna farming from Australia to Croatia, as the first sustainable way of tuna fishing and farming. In other Mediterranean countries, tuna is farmed in a completely different way. There are several such examples where Kaljani were not the originators of new ideas, they did not build a new type of vessel, they do not have traditional boats, but they were based on the development of fishing and they say that fishing is in their blood. Fisheries have always been an economic branch that provides prosperity, finances, security. So, they went as sailors to other seas and came back, building a place. All the houses you see in Kali were built by fish.


Tuna fishing is significant in FLAG Plodovi mora. Is there a reason why tuna is so prevalent in Kali?

Tuna farming in Kali, therefore, is not a product of a special water area, but the experience of Kali. Tuna is caught on the high seas. Unlike the Zadar archipelago, in Kvarner, coastal tuna fishing or hook fishing has developed, while Kaljani have turned tuna fishing to work experience. While in some other places it is even a shame to "go fishing", in Kali the idea persisted that "you are not from Kali if you have not once spent a night on a boat". Before, it was even written on the table in the village how many fish were caught by each captain, and it was a shame if too few fish were caught in one night. It is a great pride for them then and today. The population treats the captains like gentlemen, even though they are not famous captains of long voyages. Synonymous with fishermen on the Adriatic are barefoot and overgrown merrymakers, but Kali captains walk with a dose of pride. Kali were famous all over our sea. Even today, the older captains of Istria and Kvarner, as well as the southern Adriatic, can easily list all the captains of Kali and their fishing boats, they will say that Kaljani are excellent workers and the best fishermen. Everyone used to be happy if a Kali fisherman came on their ship because they knew that he would do that part of the job properly. Today, unfortunately, the situation is reversed because fishermen and sailors are in demand, ships cannot be loaded with the crew. Earnings depend on the catch, which, under special regulations of the European Union, is reduced. There is also a lack of adequate education passed down from generation to generation, such as patching nets. Big fishermen businesses fish wherever it is allowed. In the Zadar Channel, most fishermen are not allowed to fish. All these fishermen and captains are experts in the knowledge of finding fish. They often hunt in the open sea west from the Dugi otok, with care because of the Telašćica Nature Park and the Kornati National Park.

What steps do you expect in the future, apart from the development of the gastronomic offer?

It is necessary to open an interpretive centre or museum in Kali as a tribute to Kali fishermen and captains, which is a big project. What FLAG can achieve in this area is the creation of new jobs for fishermen, adding new values and diversification of fishery products, their branding and better promotion, which also helps the growth and development of the tourism sector with a potential increase in market demand and integration with the fisheries sector, thereby drawing attention, and acquainting the public, to the problems faced by fishermen.

Photos: Taste of Adriatic. EZadar and TZ Kali