Cyprus has a great maritime tradition as the islanders took to the sea from early on for trade and commerce with neighbouring countries. They became known as master shipbuilders. Nowadays, tourism is one of the most important sources of income for the locals. In Paphos, the tourism sector accounts for as much as 26,3% of the regional GDP, while the fishery sector contributes no more than 0,8%. There is considerable ground for the development of alternative forms of tourism that are more sustainable to the natural environment of Cyprus, and the fishery sector can play a part in this.
The areas where fishing takes place attract many visitors thanks to the natural wealth which can be found there, and the numerous traditional settlements that highlight the local identity. Historically, fish was one of the main trade products. Due to overfishing, fishery production has rapidly declined since the nineties. Furthermore, the population is ageing and the educational level is low. Initiative needs to be taken to upgrade educational and cultural structures in the fishery sector, but also to attract young people to live and work in Paphos. This could counter multiple issues, such as the lack of skilled human resources, low integration of new technologies, and the low level of specialisation in the fishing profession. Fishing tourism could enable fishermen to maintain their profession while at the same time creating jobs related to both tourism and hospitality. And the natural environment is better protected as the prime reason to venture out on sea is no longer to catch as many fish as possible.
The craft of shipbuilding by people of Cyprus has been known across the Mediterranean for centuries, there are records of Alexander the Great employing engineers from Cyprus to construct his war ships. But this aspect of the cultural heritage, among many others, is feared to become lost. The Intangible Maritime Cultural Heritage Project has taken steps in order to preserve the different crafts related to the fishing industry, such as sail making, sponge diving, shipbuilding etc. A database is being created to document the crafts, and the knowledge that is being collected can be used for research purposes but also to create educational material for children and adults. The first exhibition and shipbuilding workshop have already taken place with students as participants. The activities at the shipbuilding wharf have been identified as one of the good practices.
When all the information about traditional crafts becomes more available to the public and everyone is able to learn about the rich history of Paphos, hopefully it becomes more attractive for young people to pursue a career in the local fishing industry. And for local residents to promote the cultural heritage of their region. Right now, annual fishing festivals contribute to the preservation and promotion of local crafts and foods. Traditional fishing techniques are demonstrated, Cypriot cuisine can be tasted, and people can learn about the fishermen’s way of life. The willingness of fishermen to showcase their crafts and working life also resonates in their support for the development of fishing tourism. They consider it to be an important factor to improve their income, to pass on the fishing culture to the next generation and to keep the fishing sector alive.
CHERISH has shown the importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and has offered many ideas and knowledge on how to protect and promote the cultural heritage of the fishing communities of Paphos. Fortunately, fishermen are eager to work together with other stakeholders, organisations and policymakers during projects such as CHERISH in order to record the traditions and all other relevant information. Read more about what the partners and stakeholders of CHERISH have come up during their visit to Paphos over here: 2nd ILEEE was a success.