2.6 Nella and the Others

Home Ondine Nella and the Others

Women and Fishery between “Submerged” (i.e. Informal) and “Emerged” (i.e. Recognised) Labour in the North-eastern Adriatic

Nella Visnijevec was born into a Slovenian-speaking family on 14 August 1939 in a neighbourhood of Trieste known as “Piccola Parigi” (trans. “Little Paris”). When she was young, she was a “mula della Lucky” (trans. “Lucky’s girl”), which means that she worked at the “Lucky Shoes” factory. An encounter with a young fisherman from Muggia, Leonida Russignan, changed her life. Leonida, who later became her husband, gradually introduced her to the trade.

At first, Nella was responsible for the sale of the catch to wholesalers and fishmongers in the central fish market of Trieste. Then she worked periodically on the fishing boat with her husband and the other workers. She ultimately decided that this would be her profession, becoming a key member of the family fleet crew. Nella’s story is particularly significant since she was one of the few fisherwomen duly registered in the seafarers’ records (Gente di Mare) in Italy.

Nella was also the mother of four children: Tiziana, Gabriella and twins Michela and Fabio. The latter, who followed in his mother and father steps, describes Nella as a born seller, very skilled at setting the rate at the fish market. Nella’s daughter Tiziana remembers her as a practical, insightful woman and extremely generous woman, who was also a good judge of character. When Tiziana is asked to define her mother briefly, she sums her up in one word: unstoppable.

Erica Mezzoli



Fig. 2.6.a – A young Nella plays at being a diva.
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)


Lucky Shoes

“Lucky Shoes” was an American shoe factory that opened in Trieste in 1949. Its production was entirely for export, especially to the US market. The workforce comprised local people and was almost exclusively female. The “Lucky Shoes” factory represents a case of American offshoring in Europe after WWII, with the aim of reducing production and labour costs.

Fig. 2.6.b.1 – An advert for women’s raffia sandals made at Lucky Shoes.
(Australian Women’s Weekly, 26 September 1951, p. 3)
Fig. 2.6.b.2 – Exteriors of Warehouse 26 in the Porto Vecchio (trans. Old port) of Trieste, where the production facilities were located.
(Fenomena, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)


From mother to son

Fig. 2.6.c – Nella and her son Fabio onboard one of the family’s fishing boats. Of all the children, Fabio will continue the family business.
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)


All the credentials

Nella is an extraordinary case precisely because she possessed all the employment documents to certify her status as a seafarer, particularly as a fisherwoman. This enabled her to be officially considered as a seafarer, with all the resulting socio-economic, cultural and collective imagination implications from that condition.

Fig. 2.6.d.1 – Nella Visnijevec, seafarers’ records matriculation number 4004/3a. On-board qualification: sailor. (marked by an arrow and underlined in pink)
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)
Fig. 2.6.d.2 – News report on a “saccaleva” fishing. The title refers to the fact that, through the wholesale market, the fish caught by Nella also reached fishmongers and restaurants in Paris. A lovely public attestation of the value of our Nella’s work!
(Il Piccolo, 20 giugno 1993 – Archivio famiglia Russignan)
Fig. 2.6.d.3 – The document which allowed Nella to sell fish on-board her fishing boats, “given her qualifications certifying her status as a fisherwoman”. (marked by an arrow and underlined in pink)
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)


At work

Fig. 2.6.e – Nella at work on one of the family’s fishing boats.
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)


The others

Since fishery is mainly a family business, it involves all family members, including women – wives, daughters and mothers.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, their work remains “submerged”, hidden in the folds of the family “corvée”.

Fig. 2.6.f.1 – Girls at work in the fishing net factory that was once located in Duino (Italy), near the river Timavo.
(NŠK, Magajna, Devin/Duino 1951)
Video 2.6.f.2 – The Director of the Ribiški Muzej Tržaškega Primorja – Museo della pesca del Litorale triestino (Santa Croce, Trieste) Franco Cossutta tells us about women making fishing nets.
(Interview with Franco Cossutta – Santa Croce (Trieste, Italy), 18 October 2021. Interviewer: Erica Mezzoli)
Fig. 2.6.f.3 –Post-WWII, Mrs Vida and the fisherman Josip of the “Živčevi” family busy mending fishing nets in Santa Croce (Trieste, Italy).
(Ribiški Muzej TP – Museo Pesca LT, Šelhaus, 1946)
Video 2.6.f.4 – Director Cossutta tell us how the fishermen’s wives used to fish with their husbands aboard the ščife(batane)
(Interview with Franco Cossutta – Santa Croce (Trieste, Italy), 18 October 2021. Interviewer: Erica Mezzoli)


At work with the other fishermen

Fig. 2.6.g – Nella at work with the rest of the fishing boat crew “Tiziana”.
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)


A big catch

Fig. 2.6.h – NNella (right), her husband Leonida (left) and twins Michela and Fabio (centre) with a 150 kg thresher shark.
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)


“Saccaleva” fishing with Nella

The “saccaleva” is a purse seine whereby the light attracts the fish. Two boats are required: the fishing boat and the “caiccio” (support boat). Although this type of fishing is typical in the north-eastern Adriatic waters, it was established here by fishermen from Procida. Once very widespread, today (2022) in the Gulf of Trieste only four fishing boats use this method.

Fig. 2.6.i.1 – Once the encirclement phase of the school of fish is complete, the fishing boat pulls aboard the net that contains the catch.
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)
Fig. 2.6.h.2 – With its lights, the support boat (the “caiccio”) keeps the fish close during the purse phase.
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)
Fig. 2.6.i.3 – During “saccaleva” fishing, Nella’s job was to stay at the stern and lower the net.
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)


The “Cortelazzo” launch

Fig. 2.6.l – Onboard: Nella with her grandson in her arms, Fabio, the priest for the blessing and Leonida baptising the fishing boat with wine.
(Archivio famiglia Russignan)