Eco poacher 1 — Mafia 0

Fishing environmentalist Paolo Fanciulli fought off Mafia controlled Russian and Chinese fishing fleets looting his shores and, now he has created a sustainable fishing area, intends to stay vigilant.

Remarkably, the Italian fisherman Fanciulli has a history in poaching and, like many a poacher turned game-keeper, knows the art better than most.

Damascene moment

However, in the mid 1980s, Fanciulli   developed an environmental consciousness and started clandestine activities against illegal foreign trawlers and dredgers just three miles off the Italian coast.

At the time it was not illegal to travel with banned fishing nets – it was only illegal to use them and this made effective prevention of their damaging bottom trawling dificult.

Ecology awareness

During these years Fanciulli requested the authorities adopt appropriate legislation to protect the seabed and fish stocks. His demonstrations, petitions, complaints and articles in press led, in 1994, to a further regulation of trawling.


However, enforcing compliance was a constant battle and, despite wide awareness of the problem, the Harbour Corps rarely had adequate resources for action.

Fanciulli understood environmental education and enhancement of the coastal environment were key to attracting fishing tourism. He hosted representatives of campaigning institutions to increase awareness of ecological marine issues in his locality and influenced opinion so much Tuscany took decisive action and activated the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection of Tuscany (ARPAT)

Shallow reef

In 2006 Fanciulli introduced the Fish House, a concrete bollard placed on the seabed effectively making the surrounding area too dangerous to dredge. War had been declared.

The idea came to him from an Italian fisheries experiment in 1981 where 280 two metre wide concrete blocks were dropped into the sea 1.5 nautical miles offshore from the coastal town of Fregene – successfully creating a protected 6-hectare fish-breeding and coral fish restocking site safe from illegal trawlers.

Casa Dei Pesci

Fanciulli wanted to encourage visiting tourists to ‘put their heads under the waves’ and to find the beauty beneath.

Fanciulli’s created a sustainable area where nature and small scale and local fishing work together, a space shared between natural beauty and art and between protection and commercial usability.

Stronger together

Leading a consortium of small fisheries, Fanciulli won the support and involvement of AGCI Agrital, WWF Italy, the Italian Federation of Sport Fishing and Underwater Activities (FIPSAS), Municipality of Orbetello, businesses and local associations and Italian and foreign tourists.

With the support of his consortium, he let the world know mare nostrum is daily ravaged by illegal foreign fishing and polluted by toxic waste and cleaning chemicals. In 2006 his group went on to finance the launch the House of Fish – an area where illegal fishing is impossible.

Protected fisheries

All those years later, nature has now taken over the Fish Houses, which have become nurseries for indigenous species. Fanciulli runs fishing tours where, onboard his boat, he cooks his favourite local fish recipes, using the fish caught by his customers that same day.

His surrounding coastline now supports a fleet of small locally owned fishing boats. The protected ARPAT zone is being expanded as support spreads up and down the coast either side of his empire of influence. Works of art in the form of stone reliefs and monumental carvings have been sunk for the local dive community attracting other divers from around the world. Tourists really do now ‘put their heads under the waves’ and the spread of desertification has been halted, in this area at least for now.

The Fish House is the realization of one man’s dream – the dream of a single and independent fisherman and one time poacher. He took on the Mafia and other organisations much larger and more powerful than himself.

Whatsmore, he won. The most recent photo I saw of Fanciulli’s is of himself, sitting contentedly on the back of his boat, quietly fishing with George Clooney. Not bad work if you can get it.

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