Italy is water-bound, with thousands of miles of beaches, bays, and inlets. Almost everything that lives in the sea finds its way to the table.
The role of seafood in the diets of Italians has changed  greatly over    the  centuries. Right up until 1965,    the Catholic Church required  that    the   faithful   eat   fish   on   both   Fridays   and  days  of  penitence,     for example during lent.   All large   cities  had  fishmongers  to  meet     the demand ,   and   there    were traveling   fishmongers  who made    the  rounds of the towns too small     to  support   a  specialized   store.      To  this day,  many    restaurants         and households  have  maintained     this tradition of consuming fish on  Fridays  and   during  Lent.
To  protect   themselves  from  barbarian  invasions  from  the  sea , Italians  throughout   the centuries  have  retreated  inland,  building villages and towns on the higher hills.  As a result, Italians  developed  a  beef, vegetable, and dairy diet in their homes,  relying  heavily  on farm products the land provided. This fact of life also affected the seashore populace who, perhaps because of an abundance of fish, considered it to be less nutritious than beef. This erroneous perception  has  changed  in  recent times, and  today  the Italian  diet  relies  heavily on  the richness  of  the  Mediterranean sea, which surrounds the entire peninsula. In addition,  there are 150,000  hectares  of  lagoons and commercial  marine ponds totaling 170,000  hectares. The  consumption  of  fish  has also increased considerably  thanks  to an  extraordinary and perfect distribution network that allows for the merchandise to arrive at markets while still very fresh.  From  the  immediate consumption  of  the small fish along the shore to commercially organized  fisheries in  larger  markets  of  Milan  and  Rome,  today  fish is  one of the most important nutrients in the Italian diet.  
In January 1993, Italy began  implementing  EC  Directives  No.91/493/CEE  dated July 22, 1991 for  the production  and marketing of fish. The Italian  Veterinary Service (USL) is in  charge of  the inspection of  fish at the production and  marketing  levels.  Periodic  controls  are   performed  on  board  fishing  vessels;  at  the  ports  of  landing;  at  the processing plants; at the wholesale market and  at distribution points.  Italy has a  very  extensive  network  of seafood  distribution   from  landing sites to final  consumers. The market is distinctly divided  into three areas of north, central  and  south Italy. The more populated,  industrialized  north   has  the highest  level of industry concentration with most of  the major processing facilities and higher income levels.

Catches from the Mediterranean seas are mostly of the so called "Pesce Azzurro" (blue fish) such as sardines, pilchards, anchovies and mackerel.  "Pesce Azzurro"  account  for up to a third of total Italian landings.   Mollusks are found in all of the Italian seas, although the catch is steadily declining.  Under Italian law, mollusk harvesting is prohibited in polluted areas and only mollusks originating from clean waters can be marketed fresh.

It is commonly accepted that half  of the local catch  is sold by fishermen directly  to  restaurants, wholesalers and fish mongers.The remaining 40-50  percent  is sold through  traditional  fish markets.  There  are eight major fish markets -- publically owned -- which also act as dispatching agents.The  importance  of   these  markets  are  based   on  local consumption. The  most important markets in terms of turnover value and tonnage are: Milan, Turin and Rome,  Mazara del Vallo,  Palermo,  Chioggia -Venezia and Genoa.  Burocratic  and administrative   delays  are  slowing  down  the  process  to  improve  the Milano market --currently the largest in Italy-- and provide more advanced technological facilities.

     The Adriatic sea  catch  consists mainly of mollusks (clams: venus gallina, chamelea  gallina, venerupis  aurea ) ,  crustaceans, demersal  and pelagic fish.   Sea fishing in Sicily  is  characterized  by the presence of  the industrial fleet from Mazaro del Vallo which  operates in  the  Sicilian channel. Hake  is the main catch in terms of  tonnage, followed  by  white shrimp,  smooth  hound, flying  squid and sardines.The Sardinian fleet  is  made  up  entirely  of  typically Mediterranean boats and has  an   exclusively  artisanal organization structure.
Catches from the Mediterranean seas are mostly of the so called "Pesce Azzurro" (blue fish) such as sardines, pilchards, anchovies and mackerel.  "Pesce Azzurro" account  for  up to a third of total Italian landings.  Mollusks  are found in all of the Italian seas, although the catch is steadily declining.  Under  Italian  law,  mollusk harvesting  is  strictly prohibited in polluted areas and only mollusks originating from clean waters can be marketed fresh.
Rainbow   trout  and  eel  species  are considered the most important farmed products  from  an economics point of      view  but other species such as catfish, sturgeon, seabass, seabream etc. are     also  important  from  the stand point of    future market development. Sea - bream     and Sea - bass  farming  has  not  yet reached its potential. This sector is going through a phase of   growth but it  is  hurt       by heavy  competition  from  low  cost  producing countries such as Greece.Thus, import prices are highly competitive.Eighty percent of the production is sold directly to wholesalers while the rest goes to restaurants.

A recent survey conducted by Istituto Sintetica,  Rome provided the following table indicating consumers  most  frequently  purchased species (in order of importance): 1) Cod, 2) Sole, 3)Octopus,  Calamari,  and  Cuttlefish;  4) Anchovy,   5) Trout,  6) Sea Bream,  7) Bivalves,  8) Striped Mullet, 9) Sword Fish, 10) Sea Bass.

 

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