Coronavirus

Croatia's Empty Pearl: A Dreamy, Tourist-Free Dubrovnik

Normally, the so-called 'Pearl of the Adriatic' would be teeming with tourists right now. Instead, the Croatian coastal city is strangely — but also wonderfully — empty.

DUBROVNIK — The city seems to be crawling with them these days. They're everywhere, basking in the shade of stone houses, trotting around in the evenings on the white marble, making a ruckus at night.

For the past three months, cats have had Dubrovnik all to themselves. The "Pearl of the Adriatic," as it's known, is Croatia's top tourist destination. And yet, since the lockdown ended in May — and despite it being a country that the COVID-19 pandemic largely spared — hardly anyone has returned.

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Overfishing: Italy And Croatia Reel In To Preserve Adriatic

Experts are pushing for expansion of the Fossa di Pomo project, which limits fishing to two days a week across a 1,500-km stretch of sea.

TRIESTE — The Adriatic Sea is becoming depleted, and could turn into a kind of underwater "eco-desert." There is one solution, however, that both Italian fishermen and scientists agree on. It lies in the ‘Fossa di Pomo" project (named after the expanse of sea it protects), an international experiment which could help the fish fauna repopulate the basin.

But time is running out. Especially for anchovies and sardines, which together account for 30% of all Italian catch and 80% of the Croatian haul. "It's a terrible situation, more dramatic than we've seen in decades," affirms Simone Libralato, a doctoral researcher at the National Institute of Oceanography and Geophysics (OGS) in Trieste.

The population of bluefish has nearly collapsed, according to the European Union's Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF). Mackerel, tuna and other species are also being fished at unsustainable levels. Only six out of 47 economically significant species are not overfished.

Sasa Raicevich, a researcher at the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research in Chioggia, just south of Venice, says an opportunity risks being squandered by overfishing. "The Adriatic could be a hot spot for fishing, but now Croatia and Italy are competing for resources," he explains "There nevertheless remains a desire to not completely lose this resource."

In point of fact, it is Italian fishermen who bring home between 70-80% of all the fish being caught in the Adriatic— most of which are pulled out of the Croatian side of the basin. For Italy, a market estimated at 263 million euros is at stake.

"The former Yugoslavia used to practically be a protected area. Fishing was an artisanal activity practiced near the coastline," explains Raicevich. "Since entering the EU, Croatia has dedicated itself to industrial fishing, equipping itself with a fishing fleet and going beyond the 12 nautical miles that fall under its legal jurisdiction."

And now, as Italy has begun limiting its fishing in the Adriatic, Croatia has ramped up its activity.

A fish market in Rijeka, Croatia — Photo: Marco Verch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In the 1970s, Italy used to fish between 70,000 and 90,000 tons of sardines and anchovies each year, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Today, it's between 40,000 and 60,000 tons per year. In the 1990s, the Croatian fleet would catch 16,000 tons of bluefish. Today, it's 60,000 tons.

Despite the rapidly diminishing fish fauna, new technologies and ever-more more advanced ships mean fishing capacity is on the rise, threatening the future survival of both fish and fishermen.

The fishermen themselves acknowledge the situation. "Up until 10 years ago I had never seen a Croatian fishing vessel," notes Renzo Zennaro, a retired fishermen in Chioggia. "Today you cross them even in international waters. The problem is that there's just too many of us."

Guido De Grassi, a Trieste fisherman, concurs: "Before you were like Moses: you walked on water, from how many fish there were...We used to measure fish in tons, not kilos!"

How can two countries cooperate to protect their joint resources?

Now there is a new strategy, proposed by Libralato and his Croatian and Slovenian colleagues, enacted jointly by the countries ringing the Adriatic: the European FAIRSEA Project. The idea is to take advantage of the natural mobility of the fish. Protected areas are established, allowing the fish to breed, repopulate, then move out into the rest of the basin.

For now, only one percent of the Adriatic is a protected area: the "Fossa di Pomo," known in English as the Mid-Adriatic Pit (MAD), but the experiment could become a new model. "The creation of this restricted-fishing zone in the center of the basin is a bilateral initiative between Italy and Croatia," explains Nedo Vrgoc, a researcher at the Institute of Oceanography and Fishing in the Croatian city of Split. "It is the biggest protected area in the Mediterranean: a 1,500 kilometer-stretch of sea where fishing is forbidden, or only allowed in buffer zones two times per week. It's an example of how two countries can cooperate to protect their joint resources."

According to Libralato, since the Fossa di Pomo began to be safeguarded in 2016, signs of improvement have already been seen. For example, the hake population is recovering. "That's the point of the protected area: species repopulate, then migrate to areas where fishing is allowed," adds the Italian researcher.

The proposed solution, then, is a mix of measures, regulating fishing intensity and periodically closing some areas in order to allow fish to repopulate. The fishermen, however, must also be taken care of. Simply maintaining vessels has a cost, and each fishing ban is a serious blow to their incomes, explains Libralato. But the payoff will eventually be reaped in more fish, healthier fish, larger fish.

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The Missing Croatian Well

The "Five Wells Square" in the old Croatian city of Zadar is not a misnomer: For some reason, I could only squeeze four of them in that shot. Oh, well.

Will Croatia's Quest For Energy Independence Cost It Krk?

A popular tourist destination in the Adriatic sea is bracing for the construction of a floating, 400-million-euro regasification facility.

NJIVICE — The tourism season hasn't begun yet on the island of Krk, in the northern Adriatic, where silhouettes of tankers and container ships on their way to the port of Rijeka stand out against the background of the Kvarner Gulf, casting their immense shadows on the fishermen's boats.

Drazen Lesica looks out at the sea from the window of his family restaurant, founded in 1934 by his great-grandparents in the village of Njivice. "Fishing is our wealth," he says. "We've been working with the same families of sailors for three generations. But with the construction of the gas terminal, the bay will turn into a chlorinated pool."

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Pit Stop, Watermelon Seeds

Under the authoritarian regime of Josip Broz Tito in then Yugoslavia, lots of shop windows were empty. Roadside vendors were a more reliable source of food there, with watermelons being a staple of domestic agriculture.

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Where Do Europe's Terrorists Get Their Weapons? Balkan Basements

ZAGREB — The firepower displayed in Friday's attacks in Paris, including multiple explosive devices and at least five Kalashnikovs, raises the inevitable question: Where do the terrorists' weapons come from?

Terror investigators and crime experts say the most likely source are Balkan countries, a vestige of the wars that consumed the region through much of the 1990s, Croatian news website Net.Hr reports

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Croatian Conservatives' Narrow Win Leaves Uncertainty

"Uncertain to the end," Croatian-language daily Poslovni dvevnik writes on its Monday front page, a day after Croatia's conservative opposition claimed a narrow victory in the country's first election since it joined the European Union in 2013.

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Economy
Alexandra Borchardt

Collective To Connective: Does The Internet Undermine Human Institutions?

Patients versus doctors, electors versus parties and disappointed refugee aid response. The Internet may actually widen the gap between citizens and modern democratic institutions.

ROVINJ — The debate in Germany over the refugee crisis is only the most recent example. We've seen citizens complain that they are taking on the duties that are supposed to be the responsibility of the state. It is the government's role, they say, to welcome refugees with beds and food, German language courses or maybe even a job. Only this way can true integration be achieved.

This old idea of democracy clashes strangely with citizen aspiration for more self-determination and participation, which is multiplying in our digitally intertwined world. But this inevitably leads to the question of whether people merely want to have a louder say, but not actually roll up their sleeves and join in?

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View From The Bottom

There are several ways to look at the statue of Pan and a Nymph, near Dubrovnik's Gate of Pile.

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Take Five

This picture is old, but not as old as it seems: These men were actors taking a break on the set of a war movie on the river Krka in the historic town of Sibenik. Still, the image provides a slice of history, as we were on a trip through the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, a nation that no longer exists.

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Going The Distance: Loved-Up Storks Edition

While this may sound like something from a Disney film, we assure you that it is nothing less than true love: A male stork flies 13,500 kilometers every single year to be with his beloved.

This year, for the twelfth time, the male known as Klepetan has made the journey all the way from southern Africa to be with Malena, who can’t join him on the annual migration because one of her wings was damaged years ago by hunters, says French broadcaster TF1.

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