Making Ends Meet in the Danube Delta, Romania

Ana and Traian Gherasim live in Mila 23 with their 4 year old son Octavian and Ana’s mother and father.
Ana is 25, Traian is 27. Ana is from Mila 23 and is Lipoveni, but Traian is Romanian, and comes
from a community nearby, Crisan. When they first married, they lived with his family in Crisan, but
three years ago they moved in with her parents.

Traian is a fisherman. Ana’s father, who is 69, also fished until a year ago. Ana looks after
their garden on a tiny strip of land about a mile away, only reachable by boat. She also looks
after their one cow, which they keep on another strip of land. Her mother isn’t very well any more
and isn’t able to contribute much to the livelihood of the family.

Traian and Ana were both quite concerned about the 'prohibition period’, when the fish breed
and the fishermen are not allowed to fish. Traian told us about the ecological police, as he called
them. There are two of them, based in Crisan, who cover the villages round about including Mila
23. They police the area to ensure that fishermen don’t fish during the `Prohibition Period’ – the
period when the fish breed, when no fishing is allowed. Last year one was killed and people
thought he had been attacked by fishermen, but the police investigated and discovered that it was
an accident. If the ecological police catch someone with just a few fish they usually let them off,
since they know that people have nothing else to eat. But you can lose your permit if you are
caught and you can get a big fine.

For Traian, fishing is a difficult life – but he still loves it! But he told us that he isn’t sure
whether he wants his little son to take up the hard life of a fisherman. He’d like him to have the
chance to get a good education if possible.

He told us about the difficult of getting fishing permits. He explained that there are two kinds of
permit: one which allows a fisherman to fish for sale and one which allows him to fish only for his
family. There are only a fixed number of fishing permits – this is especially rigidly adhered to by
authorities in relation to permits which allow fishing for sale – which means that you can only
become a fishermen if another fishermen stops fishing and becomes a pensioner. Usually, permits
are inherited from father to son. They can also be bought or given away.
Traian sells fish through a private company which has been formed since 1989. Before 1989,
his father-in-law used to sell his fish to the government fish collection point. Of what he brings in,
he and Ana keep 3 or 4 kilos per day for the family to eat and he sells the rest through the private
company which he is attached to now.

Traian was emphatic that fish is very good for your health! He said that a strong man needs
about one kilo per day of fish. Women need a bit less.
Traian agrees with the idea of having a Biosphere Reserve in the Danube Delta but he feels
that the `ecologisti’, the environmentalists who run the Delta, don’t always understand how important
it is to the people of the Delta that they should be able to fish.

Ana took us by boat to visit her garden 3 km away from Mila 23 and showed us all the vegetables
she is growing there. She told us that tomatoes and potatoes are particularly important! She
comes there quite often with her little boy to look after it. In the winter, she said, they really rely on
the produce from it, which she processes and stores - since they have nothing else to eat except
the fish that Traian is able to catch through the ice. They never buy any vegetables.

She also gave us a tour of her house. They have a winter kitchen (bucateria de iara) and a
summer kitchen (bucateria de vara), and Ana and Traian and their little boy sleep in the winter
kitchen in wintertime. Ana told us proudly that they have water in both their kitchens. They have
another room where they sleep in summer. Ana’s mother and father have their own room, which
is like a kitchen, but isn’t really one because they don’t cook there. But both her parents’ room
and Ana and Traian’s winter kitchen - bucateria de iara - have a lejanka – an stove which is also
a bed, nice and warm to sleep on top of in the winter. Ana herself built their lejanka – she told us
that a woman always builds the lejanka on which she and her husband and children sleep.

© Monica Janowski 2002
Natural Resources Institue
University of Greenwich

From "Making Ends Meet"