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Unloading mesh bags of mussels
The fishermen looked tired.  Of course they had probably been up most of the night and were still unloading their catch mid-morning.
I’m on a small boardwalk that lines the canal leading to the Adriatic in Porto Garibaldi – a town on the Adriatic coast.  I’m spending my day exploring the lido’s (beaches) and up the coast from Comacchio.  I’m pretty sure I’ve already happened upon the most interesting thing I’ll see all day and I’m only 5 km into my route. 
One boat has mussels in large mesh bags.  They are being loaded onto a conveyor belt to get them off the boat and onto the dock and then unloaded – stacked neatly like cord wood – onto wooden pallets.  These mussels were most likely sold on the dock at auction just after dawn when the boat rolled in from a night of fishing.  They will go into a refrigerated truck to be shipped out to grace pastas around Italy.
Another boat has fish where the catch is being packed down in ice onto pallets in Styrofoam containers.  Refrigerated trucks are waiting to haul the fish away.
Another had what looks like sardines.
Packing fish
A woman on a small boat is direct selling to customers.  She uses a hand scale that looks like it could be from the last century to demonstrate the weight of the fish.  Then she guts each fish and weighs it again.  I think the couple agrees to pay for the price without guts along with other seafood they carry out.
I saw exactly what went into last night’s dinner being unloaded onto those docks.  Mostly bottom feeding sea life from the fertile salt marshes – heads, bones and all. But combined they made for a wonderful Zuppe de Pesche (Cioppino).
It’s a market that’s been happening for centuries.  Probably since before the Romans.  And while the boats are fancier, you get the feeling that not much else has changed.
This coastal area of Italy between Venice and Ravenna is wetlands and lagoons and beach and fishing.  This is a working port that retains its village feel – though there are a couple of sport fishing charters and boat tours.  But this area is still working for a living depending on the salt marshes and sea that have defined this land for millenia.
The canals are still hung with huge elaborate square fishing nets that are lowered into the water.  Seagulls dive-bomb the nets when they are raised for easy pickings.  This is the same suspended fishnet system I saw in Southern India, though I can’t say that one culture learned from the other.
There are nature preserves where the beach remains beautifully free of the blue umbrellas that line up like gaudy soldiers in front of the overpriced restaurants that clog most of the beaches in Italy.  These beaches will be packed with sun-worshiping bodies by mid-June. In one preserve a tall fence surrounded the park with a double gate necessary to enter … literally to keep the animals in the park.  I never figured out what animal was so threatening that it needed this level of security.
Part of me hopes that all the mosquitoes breeding in these marshes will drive away the sun-worshipers to keep this place unchanged.  But I think that like many areas dependent on the land or the sea for livelihood, they need these pink tourists to slurp overpriced gelato and buy overpriced beer and leave their holiday money behind to cushion the times of year when fishing earns a lean living.

But while there is no danger of these wetlands becoming a nightlife driven Rimini or the glamorous

resort-packed Amalfi Coast, it is still a place that is rich.   I’m glad to have spent my day exploring here.

Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate is a writer, former political consultant and two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate living in Seattle, WA