Today dawned bright and very early to find me already on the fishing barge at the Camogli Tonnarella for my first chance this summer to chase down ocean sunfish!
Darkness to dawn over Camogli
After a few hours sleep, we were up at 3am, dodging the last (and rather bemused) late night revellers to join the fishermen on their first catch of the day. The fishermen arrived and after a few sleepy buongiorno’s we set off on their wooden painted boat, the Andrea II, into the darkness. In the pitch black, I could just make out the stars and fishermen’s glowing cigarette ends as we lurched out of the harbour into the bay. After a short boat trip (navigating purely by memory I assume, as it was impossible to make out anything), we reached the main fishing barge.
The barge at first light (too dark for photos any earlier!)
The Tonnarella is approximately the size of two tennis courts with a barge at one end and the Andrea II moored at the other. The set nets form a maze below us with a large funnel for fish to swim into, then following the currents, they are directed into smaller chambers between the barge and the boat. The fishermen then line up along the side of the barge (me included in borrowed neon waders) and together we pulled the net taught, dragging the barge through the water to the day boat, and closing the net. The fish are then trapped between the barge and day boat where they can be scooped out. It sounds simple enough, but as I quickly learned, this is back-breaking, arm-aching labour!
Pulling the nets by hand (photo from last year)
As the first light dawned around 5am, we had our first catch, the water alive with thrashing fish. Incredibly, after all the trials of last year (which resulted in a grand total of one sunfish over 6 weeks of searching) amongst the silver sea bream and green horse mackeral, we had struck gold! Not one, but two ocean sunfishes flapped awkwardly in the folds of the net!
The first sunfish of the season! What a beauty!
These were removed by hand and popped in a keep net until the fishermen had finished collecting their catch, and then they left to take it directly to the waiting vans and locals on the keyside. This sudden calm left me time to pull the sunfish onboard and take my measurements and clip a harness on (which will record sunfish movements, depth and temperature), with a special link that dissolves after a few hours. After their release, both sunfishes remained at the surface for approximately 5 minutes before diving back into deeper water. A wonderful sight!
Taking measurements before returning sunfish to the sea
The fishermen returned at 9 and we repeated the net pull to reveal a school of horse mackerel and two smaller sunfish, which we measured and took a few samples from before releasing them once again. As we chug back to shore in the day boat, I cannot believe my luck and fingers crossed we will have the harnesses returned soon! I thanked the fishermen for their time, and with a donation towards the crew’s breakfast which was met with cries of “dolce creatura” or sweet creature, which puts me in mind of something escaped from the Black Lagoon, (but I’ve been called worse!) and many scratchy bearded kisses. Incredibly kind people and I hope to join them again next week to begin my early morning adventures again!
A job well done!
Sunfish harnesses (more photos to come of deployment on sunfish!)