Vrše – traditional fishing in Croatia

Starting January 1st, several traditional methods of fishing are banned on the coast of Croatia. Parangal (trawl line in English) and vrša (traps), among several others, are no longer allowed.

Coming from a family that lived on a small island for centuries, I consider this to be an attack on our heritage and tradition. Especially since other means of “mass destruction” of our sea bed and sea life are still allowed like trawling without serious discrimination of the catch!

You will not see this any time soon!

My grandfather Špiro was one of the last makers of these traditional traps in our area. He passed away back in 2001. at the age of 96. but the last traps he made were before the 90s war. Made of thin sticks he collected in the hills, it looked the same as the one on the images here. Unfortunately, we never preserved any of them and now there are none left!

Getting vrša in the water...
Traditional vrša made of sticks

Vrša is a simple trap but not easy to make! It required a lots of stick gathering in the local bushes and then tying all the sticks together to make a firm and round shaped object. The top is slightly extended into a funnel shape and that is where the fish was coming out once caught. Of course, before putting it in the water, the top was stuffed with a simple “cover” made of more sticks with leaves making vrša fairly interesting place for fish to hide inside. The other side was also made to look like a funnel but it was made to get the fish inside and very complicated to get out since the sticks on the part inside the trap were sharp and fish could not get out. The bait was usually some old bread or smashed sea shells or crabs…

As a true son, my uncle Mile continued the tradition and he was quite successful with his modern traps made of wire.

Uncle finishing his traps

These modern traps are usually made of wire stretched on a frame. Same idea like on the traditional ones but modern material and easier to handle. The ones pictured only require a cover of bushes – same bush smrdljika used in making the traditional ones.The method of positioning is also ancient and kept till today although now some people use GPS technology… The fisherman would visually “align” two to four opposite objects on the shores and throw the vrša in the middle of those imaginary lines. To help out, they used to tie a piece of broken plate on top of the trap so it is visible from the surface. Since the waters around our town are fairly shallow, it was rarely a problem finding your own traps. Especially early in the morning when the sea is calm and the water is so clear that you can easily see the bottom at depths over 8 meters (25 ft).

Last touches...

The only problem were divers who often dive looking for sea shells and don’t hesitate to look up if there is anything caught in the trap!

But I guess no one will be worrying about that any longer. Millennia of traditional fishing method has come to an end by a single signature on paper some 300 Km away from the nearest salt water. O tempora o mores!

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