The Catalan Fishermen’s Traditional Knowledge of Climate and the Weather: a Distinctive Way of Relating to Nature

Writer : Eliseu Carbonell
Year : 2012


Research among fishermen on the coast of Catalonia, Spain, shows that, despite its importance in the past, traditional knowledge about climate, the weather and the sea is no longer being passed on to the next generation. The central argument of this paper is that this is due not only to technological developments, but also because this information is actually being lost. Constant attention to the natural world and to changing weather conditions was a characteristic of traditional fishing communities, but as traditional fishing is disappearing because of environmental damage, this aspect of our intangible heritage is disappearing too. However, ethnographic research shows that there are still groups of fishermen who are concerned with the survival of their profession and with the preservation of traditional knowledge about climate and the environment. The main part of this paper consists of a brief compilation of information about climate lore, collected from middle-aged fishermen at the port of Arenys, near Barcelona, in Spain. The preservation of this form of intangible heritage has also become a way of preserving a particular attitude towards nature that may help us to address some of the environmental challenges that mankind is now facing.

Introduction: climate and engaging with nature in Arenys

Sitting in the tavern in the port of Arenys, which lies to the north of Barcelona, in Spain, last summer, over an iced coffee, Josep told me his conscience is clear, he has been casting the same bottom-set long-line for the last twenty-five years and if the hake wish to, they bite and if they don’t, they don’t. We talked about how badly the winter season had gone, overfishing, climate change and the future of his livelihood.

It was four o’clock in the afternoon and the bidding for fish had started in the fish market. Almost all of the skippers were in the tavern, nice and cool thanks to the air-conditioning that was on full blast. Outside it was too hot. Boxes of fish were being transported along a conveyor belt, their contents displayed on a plasma screen along with the price, species, size and other information of interest. The buyers - proprietors of fish shops and local restaurants - were sitting in rows of seats in an air-conditioned room, using remote controlled devices to make their purchases. Outside, only a few fishermen were watching the boxes enter the market. Since the auctioning process was modernised three years ago there is no longer any contact between the fish, the fishermen and the buyers. Nowadays, fishermen get calls on their mobile phones from buyers enquiring about their catches, and today that is about all the contact there is between them.

My work on the central coast of Catalonia deals with the current ‘patrimonialisation’ of maritime culture (the processes by which maritime culture becomes heritage). I am particularly interested in what is happening with intangible heritage and especially with traditional knowledge about climate, that is, ethno-climatology. In this paper I intend to argue that there is a close link between traditional knowledge, the experiences of fishermen now, and the state of the traditional fishing sector in Catalonia today. This paper is based on ethnographic research carried out on the coast to the north of Barcelona (at the fishing port of Arenys) since 2008 which studied fishermen’s traditional knowledge of climate.

Inspired by Pálsson (1996), my basic premise is to regard traditional knowledge of climate as a demonstration of the intimate relationship between human beings and the environment. Later I shall return to this topic. However, this relationship is being destroyed by what is happening in the modern world, and climate change is one of the key elements. Climate change, along with new technologies and other factors, interferes with the intimate relationship that human beings have with their environment, and results in a loss of ‘meteorological orientation’. We find ourselves in the field of what Livingstone (1991) called the moral discourse of climate, which served in the past to justify inequalities between peoples, attributing these inequalities to the climatic conditions in different parts of the world.

However, if 19th century ethno-climatology served as the theoretical basis for scientific racism, the reverse of this moral discourse can be used, as Crate and Nuttall (2008) propose, to highlight the environmental colonialism of the 21st century. Climate change, Crate and Nuttall argue, is environmental colonialism since it mainly affects people living close to nature - those who are most intimate with the natural world and who, for example, suffer most severely from droughts (Hitchcock: 2009). Similarly, rising sea levels (Lazrus: 2009) seriously threaten fishermen’s livelihoods and their culture, even though they themselves have not caused these changes, and are unable to intervene or do anything to mitigate them. Despite being a threat that affects the entire planet, climate change, just like colonialism, is a process that goes from north to south, that is from rich countries to poor countries, from urban to rural areas. The populations which suffer the most severe effects of climate change are also very often those which have suffered from colonialism in the past. In fact, the effects of climate change are causing the movement of migrants in the same way as people from former colonies migrated to the metropolis. Since the mid-eighties, we have been speaking of ‘environmental refugees’ (El-Hinnawi: 1985), people who must leave their homes because of climate change, and, more recently of envirogees (Thill: 2008).

Throughout time, fishing populations have been affected by forces far beyond their immediate locality. Spain is a country that since the 1950s has come to rely heavily on the ‘sun, sea and sand’ tourist industry, and the coast of Catalonia, the home of the traditional fishing population I have researched, is the most popular tourist destination within Spain with fifteen million foreign visitors every year. As Santana and Pascual (2003, p.87) point out, despite the major changes created by tourism, and the developments on the Spanish coast during recent decades, fishermen, the traditional occupiers of the coastal environment, have been almost totally excluded from the economic, social and political forces which have transformed the coastline. It is therefore fair to say that tourism has ‘colonised’ the fishermen’s natural environment: the sea and the coast. If we add to this the effects of massive urban development along the coast, the proliferation of recreational boats, the extraction of sand from the sea floor for regenerating beaches, and the physical occupation of beaches which up until recently were the preserve of fishermen with new hotels and other tourist facilities, the sense of invasion and colonisation becomes complete. Climate and weather changes add to this myriad of colonising agents that now serve to weaken the intimate relationship between the fisherman and the sea, and ultimately, the relationship between human beings and the environment.

In addition, there is another factor affecting the relationship between the fisherman and his environment that cannot be ignored. The importance of the fishermen’s knowledge of climate is now challenged by technical advances in meteorology and satellite communication. Joan Lluís Valls, who has dedicated many years to maritime ethnology in Port-Vendres (French Catalonia), has found that there traditional knowledge of climate, and the environment in general, has almost entirely disappeared:

Modernity has killed everything from the point of view of the physical contact that fishermen have with the world, because now everything happens through radar, GPS and computers (Valls: 2007).

The same is happening in relation to traditional knowledge of fishing techniques with new generations of electronic fish-finding aids now becoming available for use even in quite small fishing boats. My research shows that there is no doubt that the modernisation of fishing is separating fishermen from their traditional knowledge, and, together with environmental degradation and the invasion of so much of the coastline and inshore waters by tourism, this causes the deterioration in the relationship between fishermen and their traditional environment that I have observed, or, as Valls puts it, the physical contact of fishermen with the world.

Gisli Pálsson (1996) argues that the relationship between human beings and the environment can be characterised as falling within three paradigms: orientalism (exploitation of nature, negative reciprocity) paternalism (protection of nature, balanced reciprocity); and finally communalism (a concept that rejects the radical separation of nature and society and instead sees a general reciprocity between human beings and the environment. Hunter-gatherer societies would be a good example of this). In the context of the ‘communalist’ paradigm, Pálsson (1996, p.72) says that the link between human beings and nature is metaphorically presented in terms of intimate personal relationships. Traditional knowledge of climate expresses a ‘communalist’ relationship between human beings and the environment, and it can be argued that the relationship of the traditional Catalan fishermen with their environment is one of Pálsson’s ‘communalist’ paradigms. As Frida Hastrup (2008, p.142) points out, being in touch with the environment by displaying an acute sense of nature was often said to characterise the fishermen.

Traditional fishing used and perfected ethno-climatic knowledge based on men’s recognition of natural phenomena through their senses. This meant that marine currents could be detected by seeing the colour of the surface of the sea, or the proximity of shoals of fish could be sensed by smell. Changes in the wind or the probability of rain or storms were anticipated by the shape of the clouds and their direction and speed. Nowadays one can still find working fishermen who can deduce the approximate speed of the wind by the appearance of the sea. If they see clouds on the horizon with the shape of a dolphin’s nose at one end, a storm with strong winds is near, if a flash of lightning is seen in the clouds to the south-east, they return quickly to port and so on.

All of this knowledge is being lost as traditional fishing is being replaced by greater reliance on technological fishing methods in a marine environment that man has transformed, both by developments within the fishing process itself and through man-made environmental factors. Fishermen have more technology available to them but they also find themselves faced with new environmental challenges, mainly the reduction in the size of their catches. In the face of this decline fishermen have responded in two ways. One is to use technology to increase the potential of their vessels and their fishing methods, the other is to demand a more rational use of marine resources based on the principles of traditional fishing from the regulatory authorities in Madrid or Brussels (particularly in relation to the European Union’s Fisheries Policy).

In the Catalan group that was researched there are still some middle-aged fishermen who are interested in conserving both the material and intangible cultural heritage of traditional fishing. These men provided the data presented below. They are motivated to preserve this knowledge which they learnt from their parents and grandparents. However, they also understand and use classification systems from modern science, meteorology, biology and ichthyology, but they have learnt these things through the media, and from their frequent contact with marine scientists who share their eagerness to conserve the environment, rather than through formal education.

The fishermen’s traditional knowledge of weather and climate

In this section I summarise the ethno-climatic knowledge that I have gathered from the Arenys fishermen. They can use this traditional knowledge to forecast the changes in atmospheric conditions that have such a major impact on fishermen’s work. Such knowledge was indispensable in the past but meteorology and information communication technology are now widely used in its place.

Traditional knowledge about the climate is no longer transmitted from generation to generation, not only because science and technology provide alternatives, but also, and this is the key point in my argument, because they are part of a relationship with nature that is now marginalised and is gradually being lost. Traditional knowledge required constant attention to nature - an intimate relationship with the natural world – and that is not something that characterises modern industrial fishing. Neither the fishing industry, nor science, nor bureaucratic legislation has any need to maintain the intimacy with nature which was so necessary to traditional fishing in the past. Many of today’s fishermen show a complete lack of interest in this knowledge. But I have found in my fieldwork that this is not universal - there are still some who are interested in keeping this knowledge alive as part of their tradition and cultural heritage. It is the artisan fishermen who are most aware of environmental issues and of sustainable development and less aggressive forms of fishing, unlike those who are solely interested in using new technology. They are also anxious to preserve the traditional knowledge which is their cultural heritage. The examples listed below were all collected through observation and interviews at the fishing port of Arenys.

This information is divided into four sections. The first deals with knowledge about winds which are essential for sailing and affect the state of the sea. The second section refers to the sea, whilst the third covers clouds, lightning and storms. The final section addresses seasonal and other climatic phenomena. Beside each climatic category its original Catalan name has been included (in italics): as traditional knowledge of fishing is lost this rich vocabulary of words and terms which are often unique, also seems likely to be lost to the Catalan language.


In this section the specific characteristics of certain winds, including their strength and direction, has been described. The Arenys fishermen name the winds according to the compass rose. However, some winds are more important than others and have been given individual names.

1. Wind from the Sea (Vent de Fora)

This wind comes from between the south (migjorn) and the south east (xaloc). The term fora is related to the spatial orientation of sailors. To go cap a fora or fora means to go out to sea. The wind marks the direction in which one travels. Similarly, to go east means to move towards that cardinal point, in the direction that the east wind comes from. The Vent de Fora blows at right angles to the coast, which at this point has a south west–east orientation. Therefore, the Vent de Fora corresponds exactly to the intermediate point, that is south south east. This wind is considered to be bad because its path runs a long way out to sea. Therefore it brings high humidity, rough seas and heavy swells.

2. Wind from the Land (Vent Terral)

This wind is the opposite of the Vent de Fora, that is, it comes from the north north west. It should not be confused with the west wind. The Vent Terral comes directly from the land and usually blows when there is a heavy storm, when it has rained a lot or when there has been a considerable amount of snow and the land has cooled down. When the Vent Terral is very strong it is said that there is a Terralada. Clouds form in the pre-coastal range of Montseny and Mount Montseny itself spews out small clouds which form and break up. The faster this happens, the stronger the Terralada.

3. Ravine Wind (La Frau)

Although it also comes from the land, the Frau should not be confused with the Vent Terral. The Frau blows from the land in the morning. The greatest thermal differences between the temperature of the land and that of the sea occur one hour before and one hour after sunrise. The wind blows down the valleys, collects in the gullies and the dry riverbeds - which are numerous in this region - and is channelled towards the sea by the riverbeds. A few hours after sunrise the temperature of the land reaches that of the sea and the Frau ceases. If a boat is in front of or near a dry riverbed at daybreak and there is a Frau, the fishermen know that the weather will be good. One sign of a Frau is that smells from the land reach the open sea. In the past, the smell was of wood- fired bread ovens. Now the smell is that of factories and may be noticed five or six miles out from the coast. The fishermen know that the absence of the Frau means that the wind will get stronger. When it has rained, snowed or there has been a frost, the Frau is stronger and the wind will not pick up for a few more hours. The fishermen can use this time to work before they hurry back to port. The Frau is stronger when there are no clouds in the sky and when it is cloudy the Frau may not blow.

4. South West Wind (Garbí)

A well-known saying is: The Garbí wind goes to sleep at seven. One fisherman defined the Garbí as ‘the wind of the Mediterranean sea breezes’. This wind gets up at mid-day. When the weather is good in the summer and the winds turn in a normal way, the Garbí usually disappears at night. Once it has started, its strength increases and it can reach up to ten or twelve knots before it suddenly stops in the mid-afternoon. When this happens, fine weather is very likely the next day because the Garbí is a humid wind. Humidity is associated with good weather. In fact, fishermen take humidity in the morning to be a sign of a fine day to come. If a car parked in the street is covered with dew at around five in the morning when a fisherman gets into it to drive to the port, the weather will probably be good. In contrast, if the car and the streets seem to be dry, strong winds can be expected.

5. South West Mist (Calitja a garbí)

Mist sometimes forms in the south west. When that happens the sea is calm but a mist can be seen to rise. It appears as a trail of fog next to the water and small clouds can sometimes be seen to split off from it. This is a sure sign of wind from the south west.

6. Mistral (Mestral)

The Mistral is a very well-known phenomenon developing when there is a big difference in pressure between a high pressure anticyclone over Spain and an area of low pressure over the Gulf of Genoa. This leads to very strong cold winds being drawn down the river valleys, in particular the Rhone valley, and spreading a long way out into the western Mediterranean and the surrounding coastal areas, including Catalonia. A local saying about the Mistral describes it as the wind of hunger. Indeed, when sailing boats were used, it was impossible to fish when the Mistral was blowing. This wind pulls boats out to sea and makes it very difficult for them to get back to port.

7. The turning of the winds throughout the day

In the summer, when the climatic conditions are good, the wind turns with the sun. At sunrise there is an east wind. The wind then follows the sun and is strongest when the sun reaches its zenith. Subsequently, a sea breeze starts. Finally the south west wind blows and disappears when it goes to sleep at seven. At night there is little wind and at dawn the wind from the land picks up. If the weather is good, the wind follows the direction of the sun. A fisherman told me that the strength of the sun affects the winds in the same way that the strength of the moon affects the tides.

The sea

In this section the atmospheric conditions that are associated with the appearance of the sea are described. The sea’s appearance can be used as a way of judging the speed of the wind, hence it is a very important indicator of the weather for the fishermen.

1. Calm sea.

This occurs when there is no wind at all. In this situation the water is totally still, like a swimming pool. The surface is flat and there are no waves. A calm sea can frequently be seen first thing in the morning.

2. A breath (Bafeta)

The breeze is very slight, like a breath, and it hardly ripples the sea. A description of a bafeta usually includes the direction of the wind. Therefore, people talk about la bafeta de garbí or la bafeta de gregal and so on.

3. White horses (Esqueixalls).

Esqueixalls appear when the strength of the wind increases to one or two knots. An esqueixall occurs when a wave breaks and a little foam can be seen on the crest. White horses can be seen right across the sea.

4. The sea is covered with scales (La mar escateja)

This occurs when the number of esqueixalls increases and the surface of the sea looks like the scales of a fish. The esqueixalls follow each other in quick succession and indicate that the wind is getting stronger.

5. Sea full of white horses (Mar esqueixallada)

In the words of a fisherman, as the sea becomes more esqueixallada, ‘things get a bit more complicated.’ The wind speed in this situation may be approximately eight to ten knots. The sea becomes whiter, with numerous esqueixalls with breaking crests.

6. White sea (Fa blanc)

If the strength of the wind increases the sea becomes white all over, or fa blanc as the fishermen call it. In this case there are esqueixalls everywhere. The sea is no longer calm; instead it is covered with white foam. In this situation the wind gauge reads twenty to thirty knots and, according to one fisherman, it can take more than half an hour to travel a mile (which normally takes around ten minutes). For small fishing boats (ones that are around ten metres long) it is time to head back to port when the sea is fa blanc.

7. Eddies and waterspouts (Barberols)

Some fishermen can still recall old sailors taking out their knives and cutting the air in the form of a cross to break up a waterspout. These occur when the wind whips up the sea. A circular current forms and the water rises in a spout. When this happens, the wind speed may be forty knots and as the wind hits the water it raises it up in an eddy. When sailing boats were used for fishing, barberols were dangerous, particularly if they struck suddenly. They could capsize a boat if the sail was not slackened off in time, as in this situation the wind can gust unexpectedly at up to three times its previous strength. The effect of barberols on motor boats is not as dramatic as on the old sailing boats although they do still make the vessels rock hard. Even so, the fishermen usually finish their work and head for the port before barberols occur. When the sea is fa blanc, and the wind speed is twenty-five to thirty knots, the fishermen have to be very careful. ’Boats,’ said one fisherman talking about the barberols, ‘are made for sailing, not for receiving blows!’

Clouds, lightning and storms

Clouds are an important indicator of changes in the weather. If there are clouds on the horizon of the sea and lightning strikes, it is likely to rain heavily. Therefore the fishermen monitor the shape and the changes in clouds closely whilst they are working. However, it is true to say that most fishermen today pay more attention to the screens of their electronic devices than to the shape of the clouds in the sky.

1. Wall of cloud in the east (Murada de llevant).

If a wall of clouds is seen with clear sky beneath it in the area of Cap de Creus or Cap de Tossa, this means that there is a strong east wind there. One saying runs: When there is a wall of cloud in the east, it’s a sign of wind and a storm.

2. Snout of the bottlenose dolphin Tursiops tursio (Morro de molar)

The bottlenose dolphin is a large cetacean. Sometimes a wall of cloud forms on the horizon that has one side shaped like this dolphin’s snout. When this occurs, or when this shape begins to form, it means that the storm is accompanied by a lot of wind; in other words, a strong wind is coming and the boats need to leave the area.

3. ‘Anvil’ Clouds

The same can be said of clouds with elongated points on both sides, like anvils, that form over the mountains of Montseny and/or Montnegre. This means that there is a storm cloud over the land accompanied by a lot of wind that could reach the sea.

4. Cross-shaped clouds

Cross-shaped clouds are storm clouds that cross over. This is a sign of wind and bad weather. They may cross on land or out at sea.

5. The bogey man (El papu)

When a cloud forms over the land above the coastal mountain range, the fishermen call it El papu — it is an ironic name that means ‘the bogey man’ or a ghost that scares children. This cloud is shaped like a ghost and means that there will be a lot of wind.

6. Heavy clouds to the east

When large, heavy, black clouds are seen to the east, a lot of wind and heavy rain can be expected from that direction. If such clouds appear at sunrise the weather is very likely to be bad. In the winter more than in the summer, a heavy wall of clouds to the east means that the wind will probably pick up from this direction.

7. Train of clouds

When there is a squall, sailors can see the clouds on the coast moving in the opposite direction to the squall. The clouds appear in a line, like pieces of cotton, one after the other as if they were parts of a train. They move parallel to the coast or just between the coast and the coastal mountain range. A train of clouds moving towards France between the Montnegre mountain range and the coastline is a sign of a change in the weather: a storm coming in from the east. When the same phenomenon occurs over the sea to the north and the train of clouds moves out to sea, this indicates that a storm is coming from the north.

8. Clouds in the Montseny mountain range.

A local proverb warns of clouds in the shape of a hat over the mountain (Pedrosa: 2001). If Montseny is wearing a hat, don’t trust him! In other words, a cloud that does not move from its position above Mount Montseny is a sign that the wind will get up.

9. Mist (Calitja)

The weather is fine when it is encalitjat; a little sea mist on the horizon is a good sign. As described above, humidity is an indication of good weather in general, particularly in the early hours of the morning. If there is no sea mist, it is windy. Fishermen could be five miles from the coast and say 'Today I can see the rabbits hopping!', which means that it is windy and there is very good visibility. When nothing can be seen, even at two miles out to sea, the weather is good.

10. Lightning in the south east or south

One very bad sign is a wall of clouds in the south east or in the south accompanied by a flash of lightning from the same direction. A fisherman who sees this will usually be on the alert in case he has to finish what he is doing and quickly return to port. Normally, a strong wind will pick up from this direction. These winds do not last long, but as they come from a long way away they become very strong. Therefore, when lightning and a wall of clouds are seen in the south east or south most boats return to port. Large vessels (twenty-four or more metres long) are not affected by these phenomena and can carry on working. However, the boats that are usually used in small-scale fishing are just six to twelve metres long and would be at risk.

Seasonal and other climatic phenomena

Some climatic phenomena recur during the seasonal cycle. Fishermen know about them and use them to forecast the weather.

1. January calms or low water (Minves de gener)

In January, a period of high pressure usually occurs during which the sea is as flat and calm as it is in June. Due to the high atmospheric pressure at this time of year there is a twenty to forty centimetre drop in sea level that can easily be seen in the ports or on rocks along the coast. It is a good period for fishing, but tends to be short as the worst month for fishing is February when the sea is usually at its roughest.

2. Broad bean storm (Temporal de les faves)

At the end of February or the beginning of March a storm often arrives that is known as the ‘broad bean storm’. It is named after the beans that are widely grown in the region, and are much enjoyed as part of traditional Catalan cuisine. The broad bean season starts at around this time of year. The Temporal des faves is very strong with a lot of wind and rain.

3. Fog during Easter week

The fishermen also told us that some foggy days usually occur around Easter. The fog then disperses with the wind. Their explanation is that this could be linked to the spring equinox.

4. June calms

Spring is the breeding season for fish when they move around more and are therefore easier to catch. In addition, June is the month of the year with the highest atmospheric pressure, when the sea is at its calmest and fishermen can put out to sea more frequently. As a result, it is the best month for fishing. A Catalan saying runs: The three best ports on the Mediterranean are June, July and the port of Maó.

5. Billy goat’s eye (Ull de boc)

Ull de boc is the name of a phenomenon that occurs at sunrise. If the sun is covered by clouds and cannot be seen, but a little further away a ‘false’ sun is visible among the clouds, it will be windy or rainy.

6. Partridge’s eye (Ull de perdiu)

Ull de perdiu is the light that sometimes appears around the moon. Occasionally, after three or four days of good weather, at nightfall the moon casts a long patch of moonlight, like a partridge’s eye. This tends to mean that the weather will change for the worse the next day.

7. other signs at sunrise

If the sun is a deep red colour at daybreak there will be a south-easterly wind, even if there is a Bafeta from the east at sunrise. In contrast, if the sun is whitish when it rises, the wind will come from the east. If a fisherman is opposite a dry riverbed at dawn and notices that there is a Frau the weather will be good. In contrast, no Frau means that it will be windy. In addition, if there has been rain, snow or frost, the Frau will be stronger, which means that the wind, if it is coming, will be delayed for a few hours - time that can be used to work before speedily returning to port.

Final remarks: climate change, pollution and traditional knowledge

As some authors have pointed out (Ellis: 2003; Vedwan: 2006; Puri: 2007; Hastrup: 2008) people around the world use their ethno-climatic knowledge to cope with climate change and its effects. What do the fishermen at the port of Arenys say? When I asked about the relationship between climate change and fishing there were basically two factors they mentioned in response: drought and an increase in water temperature.

1. Drought:

The general opinion among fishermen is that drought is the aspect of climate change that most directly affects traditional fishing. The fishermen describe how the Mediterranean is a closed sea that needs nutrients. These nutrients come off the land. If it does not rain, the riverbeds dry up and nutrient-rich water does not flow into the sea. The fishermen confirm that during years of drought fish populations diminish significantly. However, if in the following season rainfall increases, so do their catches, especially of small fish. This is all down to the rain. If it rains a lot the sea becomes cloudy, there is a lot of mud and this is considered good for sub-aquatic life.

2. Water temperature:

I also found that the fishermen had imbibed ideas about climate change from scientists. The fishermen take all the information that comes from the scientific world into consideration. In addition, they often come into contact with biologists and other scientists who tell them about the rise in water temperature due to the greenhouse effect and climate change. This is generally the explanation they give for their inability to forecast the size of their catches. For example, a few days before Christmas 2008 there were heavy storms along the coast. Storms cause bottom-feeding species, such as sole, to be moved from the seafloor allowing large quantities to be caught and to be sold for a good price during the Christmas period. However, despite the storm the catch in 2008 was smaller than expected. The fishermen’s knowledge of the environment did not correspond with what actually happened. They explained how this may have been related to El Niño, to a rise in sea water temperatures, or to other factors. In other words, they looked to scientific explanations for answers to something their own experience could not explain.

3. Pollution

Some contaminants the fishermen consider to be particular threats include: fuel discharges, nitrates from cultivated land, industrial discharges, anti-fouling paint from vessels’ hulls due to the proliferation of recreational boats, and the discharge of medical waste and other toxic substances through the sewage system. Additionally, the dredging of sand for the creation and regeneration of beaches along this coast has caused the sea floor to deteriorate which has had a very negative impact on catches of shellfish at Arenys. None of these factors are related to the greenhouse effect or climate change, but rather to the pollution of the environment by human activity. However, climate change that causes a rise in temperature will indeed reduce the amount of water in the rivers and hence the flow of nutrients into the sea. Nevertheless, as riverbeds have been cut off and re-routed by urban development and road building, even this may be more directly related to human activity along the coast than to global climate change.

In general, the fishermen claim that environmental and climatic changes are causing traditional fishing to disappear, and this is certainly supported by official statistics which show that the Catalan fishing fleet is diminishing in size each year. Traditional fishing is being particularly affected and the number of small fishing boats in Catalonia has declined by almost half from 949 in 2000 to 537 in 2009.

In conclusion, I argue that the changes affecting or threatening traditional fishing along this coast are not so far being caused directly by climate change but rather by a massive growth in human activity and above all by tourism. However, all of these changes are affecting traditional fishing and distancing the fishermen from their environment.

This separation is clearly seen in their abandonment of traditional lore about weather and climate - which in many ways they no longer need. The loss of this knowledge is a metaphor for the loss of the close relationship between fisherman and nature, and for the move away from the ‘communalist’ paradigm characteristic of traditional fishing - a way of working that is disappearing from our coasts. If traditional fishing is lost, knowledge is lost and a relationship is lost. Speaking to the fishermen revealed a certain degree of disorientation, an uncertainty about the future and even about the causes behind it all. It is not unusual to hear them say, ‘I don’t know if it’s because of climate change or because...’

The needs of traditional fishing in response to other more aggressive forms of fishing have often been based on environmental arguments. Later came arguments about cultural, historical and heritage values (Alegret: 2003; García-Allut: 2003; Nadel-Klein: 2003). A demand made in the name of the intimate relationship between human beings and nature includes all these factors. As shown above, traditional knowledge, which has been termed ‘intangible heritage’ since the creation of the 2003 UNESCO Convention, is vital for the survival of this group and this profession. As a result of this knowledge, the members of the group have a particular attitude to the natural world: they pay attention to nature, to its changes and its movements, to the language of the clouds and the winds, the surface of the sea, the sun, the dew, and so on. Consequently, they have a specific way of relating to their environment from which the people of today have a lot to learn. This illustrates the importance of conserving this form of intangible heritage. The aim is not only to conserve knowledge as an intangible cultural value, but also to preserve and defend one of the ways in which people relate to the world around them.

Some authors have pointed out that greater awareness of the changes affecting the environment is generating new forms of solidarity around the world. This is the case, for example, that (Vedwan: 2006) describes in his work on farmers in the north-east of India. Fishermen are beginning to organise themselves by creating international networks to deal with environmental degradation. One example of this is the Network of Traditional Fishing Communities for Sustainable Development (RECOPADES) in Latin America. In Catalonia there appears to be a growing interest in recovering the local fishing heritage which, unlike some other heritage activities, highlights the need to preserve a way of life and knowledge that is disappearing, with the aim of strengthening those involved and attracting the support of society in general to help face future challenges.

In this paper I also aimed to show the importance of conserving and valuing intangible heritage as a strategy for tackling the environmental challenges that our world is now facing. I consider the following to be vital. A situation has arisen in Arenys where the fishermen themselves are involved in preserving their maritime heritage, in conserving the knowledge they learnt from their fathers and grandfathers, and in trying hard to pass it on to their children, that is, if their way of earning a living is to survive for another generation - something that is by no means certain at this point.