The Western Rhodopes area in Bulgaria is marked by its dams and rivers, which are extensively used for fish farming and angling. Because of its valuable natural resources, a significant part of the area benefits from Natura 2000 protection. This makes it difficult to set up new tourist attractions, as the protected status only allows very careful exploitation and must be accompanied by a number of special measures that demotivate entrepreneurs.
The FLAG’s Local Development Strategy identified the strengthening of tourism and recreational fishing as priorities for the area. Both are to be achieved while respecting the protected natural areas. Through this FLAG project, the local Hunting and Fishing Society built a fisheries exhibition centre in an old building they owned and designed the material to be showcased (such as full-size replicas of the local fish species and representations of the area’s various bodies of water). They also developed a web platform which lists tourist and fisheries information such as accommodation, info points, fishing tackle shops, and shops and restaurants where visitors can taste fresh locally caught fish.
The project idea was born in 2011, when members of the FLAG’s board and general assembly took part in a study visit to Denmark, to find ideas to tackle the challenges identified in the strategy. During the visit, Vladimir Peykov, member of the management board of Devin Hunting and Fishing Society, visited the Seatrout Fyn initiative, which is promoting seatrout angling as a tourist strength of the area and a sustainable and profitable attraction. Back home, the society put its efforts into exploring the possibilities to do the same, thus consolidating the area as an angling tourism destination focused on the Balkan trout.
The project undertook two main actions: the building of a fisheries exhibition centre, with an exhibition room and conference hall, in an unused space in the society’s headquarters, including the equipment and exhibition material; and the development of a web platform with useful information for fishing communities and tourists in the FLAG area.
Launched in 2020, the web platform received more than 1,700 visits in its first couple of months, and the exhibition centre is being used for school visits, environmental education activities, fishers’ and hunters’ conventions and press conferences. The FLAG also uses the premises to inform the local community about CLLD implementation and to distribute information and educational material on fishing topics.
This project has already proved to be transferable, from the Baltic Sea to inland areas. It could prove useful for all fisheries areas with the potential to develop fisheries-based tourism, especially where the protected status of the spaces to be exploited makes it difficult to start new businesses. The fisheries exhibition centre has increased awareness in the local population and tourists of the area's natural heritage and fisheries resources. The digital dissemination tools such as the web platform provide additional opportunities for promotion, information and the attraction of tourists.
Lessons & contribution to CLLD objectives:
Lessons: The project would not have happened without the inspiration provided by the study visit to Denmark. Such trips have proved to be an effective tool for sharing ideas and giving new promoters greater confidence in the implementation process and potential results. Of course, this requires the trip to be properly planned, so that the projects visited are the most relevant to the stakeholders taking part. It also depends on the capacity to adapt the projects visited to the home area’s needs and assets.
Contribution to CLLD objective: d) promoting social well-being and cultural heritage in fisheries and aquaculture areas, including fisheries, aquaculture and maritime cultural heritage.