2.1 Owning a Boat and Being a Woman

Home Ondine Owning a Boat and Being a Woman

Property Before Emancipation

Female Owners of Fishing Boats at the Turn of the First World War

The year 1884 was a pivotal time for fishing activities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In December of that year, the Ministry of Commerce issued an ordinance that completely reorganized the fishing sector. Among the various provisions, the law decreed that all fishing boats were to be registered in special registers. In those registers, all the salient characteristics of the fishing boats had to be recorded, including type, place and year of construction, tonnage and, finally, the owners’ names.

So, in the registers of the Trieste Maritime District, we find the names of more than a hundred women as owners or co-owners of fishing boats in the period 1885–1923. In particular, more than two-thirds of those fishing vessels pertained to only three localities: Grado (now Italy), Izola and Piran (both of them in Slovenia now).

As for the property question, it is important to note that Austro-Hungarian legislation offered women a certain degree of autonomy, especially concerning matters of a patrimonial nature: in fact, women could enter into contracts, dispose of their property, and stand up for themselves in court.

Erica Mezzoli
WeCanIt – University of Ljubljana


Fishing Boats

pescherecci attraccati trieste
Fig. 2.1.a – Docked fishing boats (Trieste).
(Fototeca CMSA, Trieste – Giornalfoto, F65271)


Trieste’s Girl

Ragazza a bordo della barca triestina
Fig. 2.1.b – Despite the evocative image of Mario Magajna, in Trieste there were almost no female owners of fishing boats at the turn of the First World War.
(NŠK, Magajna, 1947_331-7)


Types of Boats

Fig. 2.1.c – Types of boats owned by women in the Trieste Maritime District, 1885–1923.
(ASTs, Governo Marittimo in Trieste – Seebehörde, 1399-1402)


Certificate of Ownership

As already mentioned, the ordinance of 1884 required fishing boats to be registered in special registers. The owners were issued with a certificate of ownership (Certificato di registro), which contained all the information about the boat and the owner.

Fig. 2.1.d.1 – The first side of the certificate contained information relating to the boat.
(ASTs, Governo Marittimo in Trieste – Seebehörde, 934)
Fig. 2.1.d.2 – The second side of the certificate contained information relating to the owner.
(ASTs, Governo Marittimo in Trieste – Seebehörde, 934)


Grado’s Huts

casoni di grado 1915
Fig. 2.1.e – A typical fisherman’s house (casone) on the San Marco wet dock in the Grado lagoon. The photo dates back to 1915.
(Fototeca CMSA, Trieste – Archivio Storico, inv. 40371)


Koper Fishermen

reti e pescatori capodistria
Fig. 2.1.f – Fishermen and their nets in Koper.
(NŠK, Magajna, 1947_87-12)


A Border Area

A topic such as fishery also forces us to ask ourselves how we have exploited the natural resources at our disposal, and what our impact has been on the territory where we live.

disegno golfo di trieste 1925
Fig. 2.1.g.1 – Physiognomy of the border area between Italy and Slovenia as it appears in a freehand drawing from 1925.
(ASTs, Capitaneria di Porto di Trieste, 310)
immagine satellitare golfo di trieste
Fig. 2.1.g.2 – The same territory as it appears today (2021).
(Google Earth, data di acquisizione dell’immagine: 29/10/2021)



Fig. 2.1.h – Freehand drawing of the phases of a fishing technique similar to “saccaleva”.
(ASTs, Capitaneria di Porto di Trieste, 312)


Fishing Methods

Methods used along the coasts of the Trieste’s Maritime Compartment for catching fish, crustaceans, and molluscs in 1925. In that year the Trieste’s Maritime Compartment extended from Grado (now Italy) to Rovinj (currently in Croatia).

Fig. 2.1.i.1 – Part1
(ASTs, Capitaneria di Porto di Trieste, 310)
Fig. 2.1.i.2 – Part 2
(ASTs, Capitaneria di Porto di Trieste, 310)