by Josephine McKenna, The Telegraph, August 7, 2018
When it opened on the edge of the Grand Canal in 1097 the Rialto fish market was a beacon for Venice's flourishing maritime empire.
Now, after enduring for almost a millennium, one of the lagoon city's great cultural assets is under threat from selfie-taking tourists and mass production of seafood.
Fishmongers say there were 18 vendors just a few years ago, but fewer than half that number remain, prompting a campaign urging locals to save the beleaguered market by buying more fish.
While many Venetians see Rialto as the city’s beating heart, the depopulation caused by mass tourism and rising costs mean that stall holders are struggling to make ends meet.
Andrea Vio and his brothers, who come from the nearby island of Burano, run a stall that has been in the family for nearly 60 years.
The 59-year-old fishmonger said they used to sell 30 crates of seafood a day but are now lucky to sell four or five.
“The market is the soul of the city, it is a sign of life,” Vio told The Telegraph. “Venice is all about seafood and the market is at the heart of it. Little attention is being paid to the soul of this city.”
Mr Vio and his family rise at 3am and work 12 hours a day buying seafood from local fishermen and selling their produce at the market.
He remembers when Venetian women would be lining up for the daily catch before they arrived. Now tourists come to look but rarely buy anything.
“If I charged a euro for every photo they take, I would be a millionaire,” he says. “Tourists do not have a seafood culture, they do not know how to cook fish.
“They come to see the columns (in the market), they are beautiful. But we are behind the columns. They will have to decide if we should be paid as extras for the tourists because living as a fishmonger is difficult.”
Mauro Molin has run Ittica Veneziana, a small fish shop in the market, for nearly a decade. He too says customer numbers have fallen dramatically and greater European regulations have driven restaurateurs towards the larger providers.
“It is not the market we knew 20 years ago,” Molin said by telephone. “If the situation continues like this, we will be closed within five years.”
Molin said he was struggling to pay his store’s monthly rental of €3,000 (£2,700). “It is getting more and more difficult.”
Fishmonger Marco Bergamasco has been trying to sell his Rialto stall for the past 10 years.
“In 2008 I was offered €80,000 (£71,500) for my stall, now I am asking €12,000 (£10,700) for it but I haven’t found a buyer. Not many young kids want to exhaust themselves getting up at 3 am in the rain and wind and cold.”
He is pessimistic about the future and said the council was happy to allow mass tourism to take over the city.
“They want to kill us off, they are waiting until we are all gone,” he said. It is only a question of time. The only solution is to repopulate the city, tourists don’t buy fish.”
Resident groups such as Gruppo 25 Aprile are running a campaign urging Venetians to buy more fish from the market, but vendors claim the city council is doing little to reduce their costs or support them.
Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro was on vacation and unavailable for comment on Monday.
Paolo Pellegrini, who heads the council’s business committee, said the administration was looking at the market’s difficulties.
But he said they were caused by changes in shopping and eating habits and the fact that young people no longer wanted to work long hours as vendors.