In the port of Hydra you will see small crowds of enthusiastic
paterfamilias crooning over the morning's catch of fish.
In their wake equally large numbers of cats gather for a lucky hand-out.
Freh fish are considered a delicacy in Greece and they are bought directly
from the fishermen's boats.
Although most people rely on "professionals" to catch their fish, some
Hydriotes enjoy the challenge and pleasure of catching their own.
Tassos is one of them. He explains the system of licensing for fishermen on
There are only fifty to sixty licenses currently extant and there is
a lid on the number of new ones being issued. A license costs about 3000 Euro.
Most fishermen inherit theirs and the license is not transferable from one
boat to another. There are 10 "kaikia" (large wooden boats) operating currently and 6 to 7
"varkes", smaller boats resembling dinghies. In addition there are two very
large trawlers which use the "Trata"- method involving enormous nets.
There is a controversy arises between Tassos and his friend Iannis Gavalas about
which kind of boat is preferable. In essence they both agree that no
self-respecting fisherman would choose a plastic boat, but these are
gaining in popularity because of their easy upkeep. Tassos' wooden boat requires a
lot of labor.
"Two times a year I have to take my boat out of the water", he tells us. "I
have to remove all of the old paint and then repaint it with three coats."
The wooden boats have Diesel engines which are slow but sturdy. The plastic
boats are powered by high speed gasoline motors. The island can have abrupt
weather changes and then it is very hard to moor a wooden boat.
To his own satisfaction Iannis concludes: "If you want to feel the
life, if you have a soul, you must have a wooden boat!"
View on the Straight of Petasi
The popular wisdom is that fish are fast disappearing from the
Mediterranean, but Tassos tells us otherwise.
"If the 'Trata' boats were suspended for two years only, the island's
waters would be teeming with fish. The area around Vlychos, especially, is a
nesting place for many fish and other creatures such as octopus and sea
urchins. They like to lay their eggs among the shoals there. But even with
the 'Trata', we can find a lot of fish, because we fishermen have our
And Tassos brings out, with evident pride, an ingenious book he has made,
filled with precise diagrams of his secret places to find fish. He has
measured angles from landmarks on the shore and around the various small
islands around the gulf. Some places might yield squid; others have swarms
of "barbounia", "skorpii", or "chani".
However, Tassos admits that luck plays a big part in the operation.
"Sometimes, I come home with buckets full of fish, and on other days, it's
just enough to feed the cat."
Tassos has an arsenal of complex, homemade gear designed for the different
methods of fishing. There are all sorts of lovingly constructed gadgets.
Long lines with multiple hooks are reeled in by hand. Hand- made lures mimic
the prey of the fish. A particularly impressive lure is the one used to catch
"kalamaria". It has a phosphorescent core and "whiskers" that are
apparently very tempting. It must be dangled constantly to be effective.
There are laborious and indolent fishing methods. The large nets ("apohes")
that are sunk to the bottom to tempt "barbounia" with a bait of sea urchins
need no further attendance, but the long lines with the many hooks
("kathetes") must be constantly moved and need to be closely watched. Some
of them are as long as 3 km. These are used to catch lobster and big fish
that can only be found at a depth of five meters or more.
Another fishing method, used at night, is the "pyrofani", the lighting of
the surface of the sea by acetylene lamps, which attracts the fish. To make
the surface smooth, the fisherman first sprinkles olive oil mixed with sand
on the water. Then it is easier to see the fish rising to the attraction of
This method, like several others, is seasonal. It is used from February to
The practice of dynamiting is illegal. Since as much as 250 kilos of fish
can be hauled in one "killing", it is easy to see how quickly the fishing
grounds could become barren if this method were to be used. It also kills
small fish along with the adults, thus destroying the breed.
Dynamiting has often resulted in the maiming of the fisherman himself.
Nevertheless, Tassos says, there are still some criminals who go dynamiting in hidden
"I am not really a fisherman by trade", Tassos says as he leads us into the
kitchen of his nearly 300 year old house in Kamini. He sits at a small
table next to the indoor well, while his mother hunches over her
Tassos was a radio operator in the merchant marine and later had a business
in the USA, but ultimately, like so many islanders do, he returned to
Now one of his great pleasures is fishing.
Why does Tassos fish?
He beams at us when he answers: "I feel free out on the water. It is beautiful.
And you must understand that I don't go to fight with the fish or the sea.
I go to measure myself with myself."