Liguria – A Land of Fishermen and Fishes!

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The Slow Fish Festival starts next month in Genoa; a worthwhile and influential event combining ecological and environmental issues with tradition and the pleasures of good food. And what better place to hold this international gathering than Liguria, a region steeped in the history and culture of the sea…

A worthwhile and influential event combining ecological and environmental issues with tradition and the pleasures of good food.

A couple of summer’s ago I had the pleasure of spending a few days learning more about how some of Liguria’s fishermen still carve out a living from the coast. In Camogli, a picture-postcard fishing village on the Portofino peninsula, I watched as teams of men hauled in their traditional tonnarella nets.

pesci pescare liguria fishermen fishesAs they heaved in their catch from small, open boats, I remember mist rising off the sea, as the early morning sun
started to warm the waters. This centuries-old, selective and sustainable system is used to catch white tuna as they migrate along the coast. A Sunfish, the size of a dustbin lid, which had also found its way into the net, was gently lifted out and returned to the water, where it slowly sailed away. The two tuna I was able to buy from the catch ended up on the barbecue that evening. With just some taggiasca olive oil, sea salt and lemon from the garden, they became a very fond gastronomic memory…

Camogli is also the home harbour of the Castel Dragone, an unusual fishing boat with two real characters at the helm. Adriano and Renato were once full-time fisherman, but have now developed the concept of pescaturismo.

pesci pescare liguria fishermen fishesThe pair welcome paying tourists onto their ship, allowing them to spend the day at sea, trying their hand at baiting up the long-lines, casting and drawing nets, but also enjoying the beautiful coastline of the region.

That evening, moored in Portofino alongside yachts with a price-tag more suited to a small castle that a boat, Renato disappeared into the galley to prepare dinner. On deck, cooled bottles of Vermentino were uncorked, before Renato returned carrying succulent fish carpaccios and dressed local salad greens, followed by a huge platter of penne with a fresh fish and tomato sauce. And just when we thought things couldn’t get much better, they did: a school of dolphins swam alongside us for the final few kilometers of our day at sea.

Although I grew up on the coast, my own favourite kind of fishing is with the fly. I’ve spent many very relaxed and contented hours on the river Vara at Brugnato, casting flies into deep pools among the ruins of a fallen Roman bridge. So when I visit my folks in Liguria in summer and autumn, one of my first jobs is to head to the provincial government offices in La Spezia, to pick up a tourist fishing licence.

pesci pescare liguria fishermen fishesIt’s an adventure in administration and red-tape everytime, but I’ve now got the hang of it:  fill out the form at the post office, pay the fee, go to the fisheries office with the payment slip, a photo and my German fishing licence, then pick-up my local licence. Done!

The first time, however, went like this: go to the fisheries office, be told to go to the post office, pay fee at the post office, go back to the fisheries office, be told to come back with a passport photo, search La Spezia for a photo booth, go back to the fisheries office, fisheries office shut for lunch, have lunch too, finally manage to present all the necessary documents and payment slip to the civil servant in charge, before he tells me that I’ve filled the form out incorrectly. At that point, he smiled, scrubbed out the parts that were wrong and filled in the form himself, before complementing me on my perseverance, handing me the fishing licence and wishing me lots of luck! In Liguria, as everywhere, is seems that  fishing is always a matter of patience…

I’m an English-born, honorary Bavarian with family ties to the province of La Spezia. Over the years I’ve…

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