It’s a cool morning in May, the first engines turn on at four o’clock, it’s a steady stream of people, boating boating boats, peaks leaving. For those who witness this scene from the ground, he does not notice much detail because the quay is distant. I find myself on the fly of Angela Madre, one of the flagships of the fleet ” Associazione Produttori Tonnieri del Tirreno “. A 42-meter long 107-ton fishing trip this year; so called Tonnara Volante. From here the spectacle is unique, with the background of Valletta fortress illuminated, 24 boats moving one behind the other in an indecipherable order, slip on the almost silent water while retrieving “o fierro” (the ancor, nda). Let’s all leave our operating base in Malta, direction, Channel of Sicily and Tirreno. The fishing season started for these people, after a whole winter dedicated to arranging the boats, the networks, the various devices. Each boat has on board from 14 to 16 crewmembers, each with its precise task,
Each with his age, his experience. At present, this fleet is the expression of the most advanced tuna fishing technique that exists in the Mediterranean. An Italian evolution, also exported to France by some emigrants from Cetara, in particular, a small seafaring reality of the Amalfi Coast, but the seat of the most important Italian “tonnare volanti”. We are all here to capture, which is surely the most important commercial fish in our Mediterranean, Thunnus thynnus (L.) the finest quality ever. [See the tuna card]
A real giant of our seas. Old fishermen tell me of creatures weighing more than 10 “cantare” (10 quintals, nda), they talk about weight scales, of boats that were sinking for the strength of the fish. In their voiced voice the nostalgia of those times gone, in their eyes the memories of those images a bit faded by time, but never forget. Everyone agrees that they were other times, there were more fish, each year it is getting worse and the competition more and more aggressive, even by French, Tunisian and Spanish. They look like classic phrases for those at the beginning of the fishing season, especially since it seems that the last two years have been very positive as a result (almost all of them). We will see later, meanwhile, we continue on our way south of Malta towards the coasts of Libya. This is a type of fishing that, unlike the others, needs a real team and is noticed by the exchange of information between the various boats.
The group is divided according to established agreements, each with its reference, to patrol uninterruptedly a stretch of sea. What is highlighted on these boats is the importance of technology, it has a prominent place; Even a person with little experience, just climbing the dashboard can figure out all this.
In a beautiful show are clear radar screens, echo sounders, sonar, cartographic GPS, with communication systems side by side. If your eye is used to looking for the helm wheel, it will be disappointed to find that it is no longer used for some time, today it is only maintained for emergency, while the boat is driven exclusively with a joystick coupled to the autopilot. In short, the romantic memories of the captains of the past, with their hands on the wheel and the glue attached to the compass, are all set! I sit in the dashboard to better follow the trend of the fishing tackle, though, the first part may seem a bit boring as it is to continually rip the sea without stopping, without pauses.
Here comes the human eye in spite of all the technological upheaval, since it is imperative to seize every small movement on the water to locate the fish table. Every curvature of the surface of the sea is scrutinized and interpreted, and this can only be done by eye-catching and experienced eyes, eyes that have passed years bound to binoculars for signs. Suddenly on the radio arrive the cries of the watcher who found a “cumpagnia i pisci” (fish group, nda) from the plane and launches the coordinates; Fast moments with exchanges of information through decoded radios, then running to the point. It almost seems like a naval race.
My boat is one of the fastest in the entire fleet and it shows it without fear; The commander almost puts the two engines down and the boat reacts, leaving a stern runway that bites the water. The blast that stems is deafening, you can hear it above the fly, but no one seems to be making any case any longer. Meanwhile, the crew has everyone in their job; Those who are ready to feed, those on the lance, those at the winch. Following the directions of the plane, you get near the pack, then the sonar goes into action, this, to realize the exact size and position, but something not convincing, is noticed by the dubious expression of the Commander while trying to interpret colored spots on the monitor.
She begins to shepherd to call tuna, today’s menu provides sardines, as always, dark shadows are getting closer, start the first splashes, they are eating! That’s what he did not convince before, the herd that we have found is made up of small fish, too much, moreover it is also quite small as a quantity, you can not take it and it is worth not even worth it. Patience, you have to swallow the toad and go ahead hoping to get better. Continuing with the search the time flies that we do not even notice, it’s late and the boat stops for the night, engines go out and suddenly peace reigns. As an enchantment I find myself in the middle of the Sicilian canal with the smooth sea like oil, in the most complete silence, only a faint buzz of the generator, but it does not distract my attention from the spectacular sunset, colored with all the nuances of the red And yellow.
The time to take some photos, then a nice afternoon with the cute guys of the crew, for them it is the first time they have on board or sub and the curiosity is so much. Unlike my bunk companions, I get up early, I have an appointment with dawn this morning. After many years at sea I realize that these moments are always different from one another and I have never tired of it, rather, the more time passes and the more I learn to appreciate them. Immediately after dawn, the engines turn on and off for another day of fishing; Taking a look at the radar, I realize that this stretch of sea is very crowded to judge by all the dots that appear on the screen in spite of what my naked eye is seeing. And here in the middle of the morning the rumored voices are coming back to the radio, usually exchanging news and going to the goal. This time we arrive after another boat in the group that is already beginning to breed, all around is a flush of tuna that jump to eat; He seems to be witnessing a living re-edition of Hamelin’s magic piercing fairy tale, only that instead of the mice there are the tuna that gracefully follow the lance drawn by the bait.
At a scream of a commander “o canotto” (the tender, nda) is dropped to the sea by the slope; It will serve to keep the two leaders in the begi
nning of the network. At this point the boat proceeds to speed and begins to describe a huge circle around those that are breeding, letting it unfold neatly behind just over two thousand meters net. From the top of my position I can see the precision, when the huge circle closes, when the boat reunites with the boat; The scene perfectly reflects the idea of what a cybernetic network means.
After the two heads are transferred on board, the steel wire of 22 mm is started, this will close the bottom of the net now open as a huge bag. Ciccio, the commander, visibly relaxed compared to before, explains that this is one of the most delicate moments of the whole operation, as the fish inside is not yet locked, but “simply surrounded” by the gigantic net, which in Some sections reaches a depth of 250 meters. As soon as the bottom rings come in, the guys are ready to stern to begin to retrieve a little grid to stretch the rim.
The operation goes for long, but people do not seem to worry, so you have to wait for the cage and it will not arrive before tomorrow! Well, maybe not many people know that this type of fishing requires tuna to stay alive and alive must be sold to the buyer, so it’s imperative to do everything to make it happen. The commander-in-chief of the commander, Minicù, explains to me that virtually the catch of all their co-operatives is destined to the Asian market by Japanese and Korean; These are the tuna buyers who will then take off with the cages and keep alive in their tuna farms spread across various parts of the Mediterranean, then they will be baked according to market demands and needs. In this way you can get a freshly “freshly picked” product most of the year. In the meantime she falls in the evening and, awaiting the famous cage, I enjoy the spectacle of the lampara wandering in the net to lighten the tuna and not make them bang at; At the same time there is a way to go to people from other boats that, on canoes, change from night to keep the net open. I think next morning and do not hide a little emotion for what I’ll have to do, it will be the first time for me! The presence of the sub, on board these boats, serves to film the tuna passage under the water, from the net that caught them to the cage, in this way you can also see how big and how big they are.
All in all, a simple, but extremely delicate operation, as it will serve as a video for bargaining with the buyer, I make a quick mental calculation of the current market price agreed and the alleged amount of fish that’s in the net And I realize that there are so many zeros! Take a look at my underwater equipment, OK OK the bottles are charged, I move in the cabin to check the video case, charged battery, new pouch, perfect, it seems I’m looking forward to getting in the water and earning the Tomorrow’s day; I also set up the camera case because I’m going to take some nice shot at home. In fact to think about it, tomorrow will be a bit of equipment, but I do not want to miss such an occasion!
It’s late, it’s better to go to sleep, in the morning we start moving at five o’clock and it’s better to be cool. The alarm clock is quite traumatic, a sign that I slept little, but it does not matter, the excitement to start is such that I push my eyes on the blessed tug that is carrying the cage. Begin engagement, Minicù makes a point that I can go into the water and do a reconnaissance; I do not repeat it twice and in a matter of minutes I’m ready to jump from Madonna’s wall. The cool morning embrace of my Mediterranean is completely electrified, the time to dispose of the cases and then to the center of the net, I hurry to meet these ladies. I leave the surface and suddenly my world is dyed of all the colors of the big blue, dark, silent, I forgot it is early and the sun is still very low; I barely see the walls of the gigantic black net that comes down, puts me a little in awe for its size, it’s almost ghastly, but I keep coming down, 15, 20, 25 feet, suddenly my eyes, used to the little Light, they barely notice the fleeting flashes far away, here they are! I approach as much as I can and suddenly come literally “crossed” by this pack of tuna that run wildly.
The quick appearance, it was so exciting and sudden that I felt an adrenaline discharge pervadermi my whole body, a unique feeling. It looks like a herd of frightened buffaloes, running without an apparent order, not yet realizing what happened and continuing their pilgrimage on one side of the net. I remember the fishermen tell me about this frenzy of their unceasing movement. They seem to be almost damned souls, or perhaps it is more appropriate, condemned, to a destiny certainly not favorable to them, but this is the law of the sea; Predator, prey, there will always be these two figures. There are so many, I try to make an estimate, they look like two hundred specimens of all sizes, but it’s not easy to run too much and there is little light. I resume and start filming, after all I’m here with a definite purpose and I can not take too long for those who are up. Content of this first encounter, I come back and take a look at the surface operations, everything was fixed and the door of passage prepared; I plug in the cage to get confident with my “job”, fix the references for the right shot and look forward to the passage. I almost feel a predator lurking; The minutes spend lenses, endless, then finally some silvery movement, it begins. As expected, the recovery itself is somewhat boring; The only change of scenery was the passage of a sea eagle, ending in the net itself, after that only tonne! As soon as the supporters point to me they are all gone, they literally sneak in the melee! At last I’m free to swim in their midst, it’s a unique feeling, the first seconds tend to avoid me, but then they become more and more daring and start to walk from all sides, always following a circular course. I’m fascinated by their movements, their shapes. I can see the details never seen before, such as the movement of the fins for example; The pectorals seem to melt the water when they do not use them to stabilize, but to have the maximum hydrodynamicity they are folded to the body and, looking in the face, literally disappear to the sight, the profile becomes perfect. The dorsal and ventral pins sway in a rhythm at every stroke; Their yellow color stands out sharply over the rest of the body, a sign that they are in full reproduction period. The big muscular bands seem to want to spit out from the thin skin, giving the idea of the power of these sea creatures. Every detail has been studied and created by nature, the result of thousands of evolutions of the species, which today has become a speeding machine. It seems almost a shame to have to eat these “perfect machines”, but we are all here for a definite purpose.
Hundreds of looks that converge on me, I seem to be observed, the sensation is strange because generally fish eyes are not very expressive, but here the situation is different. They almost seem to want to invite me, I like to swim like them, indeed it’s something more, it’s like a dance, a waltz; The Blue Danube notes come to my mind and start to turn to imaginary music. I am so hypnotized that I forgot to take pictures right away, then suddenly I wake up and realize where I am, moments that seem like eternity. They are really big, I think their weight, they look like more than two hundred pounds and they are half a mile away, some I can touch them, aware that their skidding might make me a bit bad, but the temptation is too much! This time, time passes fast, just the time to make the last shots then, fast way to the outside, with a last look behind what I’m leaving. Already I take advantage of it and make a ride under the keel, so much to see the two twin propellers. It’s all about an indescribable blue, below, hundreds and hundreds of meters above the Mediterranean, above, the shape of the boat that stands majestically above my head. I wonder what the underworld is, who knows, maybe, but it’s too much for anyone, I close my eyes for a moment and I end up in the water, endless emotions. As with all the beautiful things, this too has an end, unfortunately; I started to go up badly, I wanted to stay a little bit in their company, but I have to settle for today, because it was an experience out of the ordinary and I’m happy to be touched. Not even the time to put my head out of the water, which I find all the sailors leaning on the wall, obviously waiting for my return, I immediately get drunk with questions, how many are, how big they are, etc. The euphoria is so much, because it is already rumored that this was a good “cala” (catch, nda). At the end of the operation, after a good rinsing of all the equipment, he has a check on the shot made, who knows why there are moments of doubt, then finally the pictures appear, they are perfect; We start counting the tons, it is just over one hundred and eighty, I’m satisfied, I can finally rest. Thinking of today’s diving, at the level of emotions, I’m compared to so many others around the world; I encountered sharks of every kind and size, barracudes that almost obscured the surface, blacksmith’s walls and much more, but today I think I can add this undoubtedly among the dives to remember. Over the course of the season lasting about two months, we shot the Mediterranean on long and wide; From the Libyan waters to the Tyrrhenian Sea, to the coasts of Sardinia, a continuous pilgrimage to hunt for tuna, a search for both fruitful catches and numerous failures, but who lives the sea to live, knows that he is so aware of it day after day. How should we all be aware that all this will exist, as long as tunas will continue to exist.
All photos copyright by Massimo Ardizzoni