Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Fish stories - Good and Bad

This trip to Sicily has had a few themes. Fish is one of them. It's hard to avoid when you're on an island in the Mediterranean.

Julian P has asked me to look out for a local marlin, a spearfish (Agugghia imperiale), which is caught in the Straits of Messina . No sightings so far maybe because I'm at the wrong end of the island. Palermo could be a possibility as that's starting to move towards that part of the world.

Good fish story. This fishmonger (pescetorio) at the Antico Mercato explained to me how the swordfish (pesce spada) are caught. I took it that they are line caught on single lines. a sustainable practice.

He gave me this hook as a memento of my visit. The market still operates just inside the 17th century gateway. Mainly fish but also fruit and vegetable and some deli outlets though it looks like it might be heading the way of the Valletta market which has been killed by supermarkets.

They still set their fish up on hundred year old marble tables slightly scooped to contain any ice and juices.

Bad fish story.

There is a fishing tradition in a number of fishing communities of Sicily and Sardinia, an annual ritual called the "tonno'. It's got religious and pagan origins and signals both the opening of the tuna fishing season and the blessing of the fleet. The fishermen are very superstitious (the world over) and this seems to be an offering to the gods that, if not carried out could mean a bad season for the community which is dependent of the sea for its survival.

Problem: Its bluefin tuna which I glean is endangered in these waters (correct me if I'm wrong Julian) and it's seen as a rather grotesque and cruel ritual (the practice is banned across the rest of the Mediterranean).

The fish are herded through a series of nets set over kilometres of water beginning with the widest possible setting and over the long distance becomes ever narrower until the fish are corralled into the final net - the only one with a bottom. At this point it becomes a bit of a killing frenzy where the net is slowly raised and the local and regional fishermen join forces to jag the tuna with long poles and drag them onto the docks/boats where they are killed and bled.

They take about 100 tonne this way and the tuna cannery comes alive to begin the canning process. Many are exported fresh, mainly to Japan, at up to $500 a kilo for sushimi etc. I reckon my fantastic tuna meal last night may have made me complicit in this harvest but, Gesu Cristo, it was beautiful fish..

No comments: