A family of fishermen mortgage their house to buy a boat to try to get out of poverty, but they fail and are persecuted for trying.
In Sicily fishermen return at dawn with fish to sell, but they complain that the wholesalers pay little. The next night the young men decide to ask the wholesalers for more money. Ntoni throws scales into the sea and is arrested with others. Raimondo says they should drop the complaint, and they are released. People welcome Ntoni and his friends. Ntoni tells his family they should mortgage the house and buy a boat. The Valastro family takes a bus to Catania. They fish for themselves and make a good catch of anchovies. Nicola helps Mara push the cart to get the salt, and they salt the fish. Ntoni runs after Nedda, and they kiss.
Mara is worried about a storm. Ntoni's boat is towed back by Bandiera; they have lost their nets, oars, and sails, and the boat is damaged. Ntoni's mother consoles her sons. Ntoni can't find Nedda nor a job. The wholesalers are boycotting them. Officer Don Salvatore courts Lucia at her window and offers her silk, which she declines. Ntoni tries to sell thirty barrels of salted anchovies, but a wholesaler offers them only eighty lire.
An American gives cigarettes to Coca and others at the beach. After a month without work, Ntoni sees no hope. His brother Vanni says he earned 350 lire picking oranges. Ntoni follows Coca, who joins the American smuggler and others at a table. Bankers foreclose on the Valastro house, and Ntoni is called home. Coca gets instructions to the boat. He leaves early and gets in the boat with others. Ntoni tells Grandfather that Coca is gone. Grandfather becomes ill and is taken to the hospital.
Lucia has accepted a necklace from Don Salvatore, and Ntoni carouses in town with riffraff. They see Don Salvatore happily whistling and say he has got lucky with a girl. Mara sees Lucia come in late. She says they must guard their honor, and they fight.
The next day Ntoni gets into a fight with the wholesaler who bought the anchovies. Mara shows Ntoni the eviction notice. Mara says goodbye to the mason Nicola. The Valastros move out of the house.
People cheer for the new boats being christened, thanks to the baronessa. Ntoni sees his boat being repaired by strangers. He says they have to learn to care for each other and the common good. Ntoni puts on an old shirt and goes with two younger brothers to sign up for work on a boat; but his brothers will only be paid half and a quarter, and men laugh at them. Ntoni's mother blesses him, and he goes to work.
This docudrama did not use any professional actors and
portrays a family of fishermen with extreme realism. The main
theme is the capitalist exploitation of the workers who are not
organized to fight back for a larger share of the profits.