My Mediterranean Fishing Experience [Travel]

2009 Jul 9
So...this isnít exactly a food story...but it was an experience that some people on the board might enjoy hearing about...I will warn you itís a long story!

I recently got back from 8 days in Porto Vecchio, Corsica. I decided that Iíd like to check out a commercial fishing operation, so fortunately in Corsica if you know the right person you can make these things happen and before I knew it I was invited by the husband of the local fish market owner to go the next day at 4:05 SHARP the next morning.

When I arrived I was greeted by a bunch of chain smoking fisherman who were repairing nets and although they were surprised why a tourist would want to come along with them, indicated that there was instant coffee in the galley and to help myself. The boat was about 70-80 foot commercial trawler with a captain and three fishermen.

We left at 4ish and by about 530 we arrived near the tip of Sardinia to drop the first net, which was to ride just above the bottom. Once the net was out (the planer boards were each the size of a small car!) we retired to the galley for cold heinekens and more smokes...I checked my watch it was just before 6! It was also the first time I had an ice cold drink in almost 2 weeks...I find really cold drinks arenít exactly de rigeur in Europe. The guys found places to grab an hour or so of shuteye and I went above board with a book to catch the sun coming up over the Ligurian Sea.

Just before 8, it was time to pull the first net up. I watched anxiously wondering if there was going to be dolphins or coral reef parts in the net; as we all know trawling doesnít have the best environmental reputation. They dumped the net and I was surprised to find a lot of...anchovies, sardines, squid and octopus. The net was sorted in about an hour, and I am thinking to myself ďSardines are 2Euro a kg, that is at most 100 Euroís worth of fish...we have burned more diesel than that already.Ē They kept everything (almost nothing was tossed back, some small stingrays) and there was less than a groceryís bag worth of garbage that came up in the net.

Once the next net (a mid-water net) was out the net was sorted and, more beers and smokes. It was now about 9. Before long, it was time to pull the net and it was a lot more of the same: some rock fish for bouillabaisse, some big rays, some dogfish, a lot of silver hake (called merlan by the French) , and more octopus and squid. I love octopus and squid so it looked good to me but I was still crunching numbers in my head and thinking that this wasnít an especially lucrative morning.

All the fish was sorted by species and size, washed and packed loosely in ice. It looked and smelled amazing by the time it was going in the cooler; I was really impressed by how clean they kept the boat. Now it was time for lunch...

I had brought the stereotypical lunch of the ďAmercainĒ (at least in the mind of the French fisherman I was drinking with) which was big kick ass versions of pan bagnat. That wasnít going to do, so they invited me to sit down to a lunch of rabbit stew (prepared by one of the guysí wives) and freshly caught hake which was lightly floured and fried in olive oil. Both were revealations...the stew was little more than browned rabbit, huge chunks of potatoes and lardons with a delicious gravy, and the fish was so fresh I would have eaten it raw...it was so mild and firm the closest thing it reminded me was of freshly caught lake perch, and that maybe isnít a fair comparison. All of this was accompanied by lots of wine and lots of cigarettes for them. After about 2 hours, the lunch broke down into a discussion of whether a Tunisian is an Arab or not...I wonít delve into politics here, but lets just say it there was heated advocates on both sides of the issue, and I certainly had no opinion and could just barely follow all of the discussion ;)

Around 4:30 the last net came up, which was a shrimp/langoustine net. The fisherman had apparently put there argument behind them. When they opened this net up on the deck I finally saw how they make money...there was a pile of langoustines 10 feet across that rose to my waist...and langoustines sell anywhere from 20 to 60 Euro a kg. I saw all kinds langoustines crawling around the size of a small Atlantic Lobster...so I realized they were going to make out okay today.

I watched them sort the (mostly) crustaceans and saw them sneak a bite every so often so I was intrigued. One of the guys tossed me a big shrimp and showed me how to break off the head so that I could eat the tail and roe in one go (Shrimp roe looks like blue playdoh, who knew?). It was marvelous, not fishy-tasting whatsoever and actually quite sweet. I enjoyed this delicacy, rare at least for me.

It was a long day, we arrived back to the pier at 6:30 to a bunch of restaurateurs eager to snap up mountains of fresh langoustines, but I enjoyed the experience and definitely learned a thing or two about the state of the Mediterranean fisheries. Big, expensive fish like tuna, swordfish and turbot are exceptionally rare; these guys make their living off of crustaceans, blue fish (mackerel, sardines, anchovies) and cephalopods.

Iíll post pics soon...

2009 Jul 16
Sun rise over the stern...looking east towards Napoli or Rome..

2009 Jul 16
FYI, Pietra is available at the LCBO.