Capraia is a small island in the upper Tyrrhenian Sea, in the Tuscan Archipelago National Park between Italy and the island of Corsica. Measuring just 8 km by 4 km and located about 70 km off the coast of Tuscany, the Capraia is home to about 300 people.
With an economy dependent mainly on seasonal tourism and a little winemaking, water quality is pristine and the conditions for mariculture are ideal. In 1998, the Cooperativa Maricoltura e Ricerca, Mariculture and Research Cooperative (Maricap) opened up shop in Capraia, taking advantage of a regional initiative to reduce fishing pressure through mariculture. Yet, in its first iteration the Cooperative didn’t operate for long, and remained de facto dormant until 2005.
Things changed when local fisher Vincenzo Romano and his friend Fabio Giorgi decided to take over the cooperative. Vincenzo, motivated by an enduring love for the sea, rejected the path that most young people of his generation had followed: leaving Capraia for the mainland to find work. Together with Fabio, who shared his passion for the sea, they revived the Maricap project. Their driving idea was to take advantage of the extremely clean waters around the island to farm high quality, eco-sustainable sea bream and sea bass with the utmost attention to animal welfare, and at competitive prices.
As the plant had been virtually abandoned from 1998 to 2005, it needed modernization, if Vincenzo and Fabio were to succeed in their project. EU funding has been instrumental to this modernization and made the cooperative’s operations viable, by covering the costs of three major upgrades: in the first place, the cooperative’s warehouse was provided with solar panels to improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate dependence on the power grid. Secondly, Maricap purchased a refrigerated truck, to ensure that the high-quality products reach the markets on the mainland and provide an unbroken cold chain, when ferries are being delayed by bad weather. Furthermore, the EU has helped improve the mariculture plant with two additional cages installed at sea and with the installation of an innovative and patented feed distribution system. The cages are 20 meters deep and they are placed in a spot where the average depth of the sea is 50m, and this allows for greater oxygenation and current. Fabio Giorgi underlines
we have widened the diameter of the tanks to have even less density, at most five kilos of fish per cubic meter, when usually in farms it reaches twenty. The large volumes of water and the recirculation of the currents guarantee the good health of the plant". As for the feed system "we have won a challenge" says Stefano Dini, one of the partners in Maricap, "by creating a technically advanced plant, boasting a fish feeding system unique in the whole Mediterranean, which enhances the nutritional capacity of the feed and reduces the dispersion of food in the sea". EU funds “have been decisive, we have indeed made investments for about 900 thousand euros and we have received contributions from the EMFF for about half the quote.
In 2014, Vincenzo Romano tragically lost his life in a work accident. His children, together with Fabio Giorgi and the other partners who have joined over the years, decided to carry on with his legacy and push the cooperative to an even more ambitious objective, that of making it wholly organic and ensuring that the entire productive cycle is "antibiotic-free", an objective recently achieved: “All these elements demonstrated how much it is important to us to create a company that can stay on the market, but that implements the best practices to respect the fragile ecosystem in which it operates. Recently we are embarking on a path to become perhaps the first company in our sector certified as carbon neutral, our photovoltaic system, our feeding practices and the collaboration with the feed company will hopefully lead us to this ambitious result by the end of the year”, says Fabio Giorgi.
The Maricoltura e Ricerca cooperative is now one of the most important sources of employment on Capraia, as Stefano Dini explains:
We work with 12 people, most of them young people from the island, who instead of migrating we managed to keep here: this means that they will be able to think about a family and having children, which implies having schools and services. We consider ourselves an example of how a compromise can be found between business and respect for the environment.
The Maricap project has a two-fold value. On the one hand, it has allowed a community dependent on fishing and few other activities to find work in ecologically sound and sustainable marine aquaculture, with the creation of higher-skilled and well-paid jobs. This has reduced economic migration to mainland Italy and repossession of the territory. On the other hand, the co-operative’s emphasis on economic as well as environmental sustainability has created an impetus towards comparable activities in the agricultural sector. The result has been to turn the whole of Capraia into a “smart island” pilot project with a circular economy in the blue and green bio-economy sector. Large industrial groups have invested, for instance, in the green energy sector. Maricap and Capraia as a smart island are synergistic, with each element strengthening the other. EU funding has helped the whole island’s economy to become more self-supporting, sustainable and inclusive.
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- Publication date
- 26 February 2021
- Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries