Tuscany the lagoon of orbetello: fishing and much more

4.7% of the national fishing fleet
21,9% Demersal trawl
22,6% Purse seine
4,8% Long line
50,3% Small scale fisheries

Schermata 2015-09-16 alle 21.40.11

The lagoon

The Orbetello lagoon is a Tuscan coastal lagoon in the Grosseto area of the Maremma district.

The lagoon is separated from the sea by two sand deposition landforms known as tombolos, and are called the Feniglia and the Giannella Tombolos. The most significant features of these sandy areas are the long beaches, sand dunes, pine forests and the typical Mediterranean scrubland vegetation.

The Feniglia is a sandy strip 6 km long between the Ansedonia hill to the east, and the Monte Argentario to the west. Giannella is also 6 km long and runs from the Monte Argentario to the mouth of the Albegna river.


There are currently more than 58 fishers who work together in a cooperative. They have a laboratory to process fish products, they run a shop and a fish market, they breed sea bass and sea bream fry for repopulation purposes, they produce cured fish roe, smoked mullet and eel fillets and in the evening they open a small restaurant overlooking the lagoon where they serve the catch of the day cooked in the Orbetello style.

In the last few years they have begun offering fishing tourism activities, in a vessel set aside for this purpose it is possible to explore the lagoon as far as the weirs where the lagoon meets the sea and where the grey mullet are caught.

The Orbetello fishers’ cooperative also runs the restaurant “I Pescatori” in a building that was originally the stables of the 19th century Spanish fortress. The members of the cooperative are present both in the kitchen and serving in the restaurant. The menu varies according to the fishing season and specialises in cured mullet roe, smoked and marinated eel and Atlantic bonito.

There is a Slow Food Presidium in Orbetello which is part of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, called “Bottarga di Orbetello” after the cured fish roe typically produced on the lagoon. The aim of the Presidium is to help the fishing community, working to give due value to their products and to keep the lagoon habitat alive and healthy.

Orbetello cured fish roe

The art of preserving fish was probably introduced to Orbetello by the Spaniards, who in the sixteenth century were already smoking eels and dressing fish with “escabece”, a hot sauce made from vinegar, rosemary, garlic and sweet peppers. Smoked eels and “scavecciata” style eels are still prepared in Orbetello today. Cured fish roe is also still made, and the Italian name bottarga comes from the Arabic “botarikh” which means salted fish eggs. Until recently however this was only produced at home as the mullet with eggs were in fact sold fresh in Sardinia.

The grey mullet (Mugil cephalus) is abundant in the brackish ponds of Sardinia but also in lagoons on the Tyrrhenian coast.

The cured roe is prepared by gently extracting the ovaries from female mullet (or, with inferior results, from tuna), putting them in salt for a few hours, after which they are pressed and dried. The Sardinians dry “bottarga” for up to six months, while the fishers of Orbetello consider it to be ready after 15 days. When it is ready, the cured roe are in a single block that is amber coloured, solid but not dry.

Cured roe from Orbetello is excellent consumed in thin slices, seasoned with just a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a touch of lemon. Otherwise there is the classic Italian recipe for spaghetti topped with grated bottarga, parsley, garlic and a little chili pepper.

Mullet fishing can be carried out all year round, but it culminates in the months of August and September.