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July 23, 2008

Traditional “Felucca” Fishing Boats of Sicily

BY: Keith Ellenbogen


©OCEANA/ Keith Ellenbogen


Off the coast of Sicily are fleets of traditional “Harpoon Fishing Boats” with cables connected to ladders connected to lookout stations — 100ft/33m above sea level — that tower over the city and mountain peeks. Defying gravity 3ft/1m above sea level with a feeling of ‘walking on water’ is a horizontal ladder extending 150ft/50m from the bow of the boat to the harpooner station.

Exclusively targeting swordfish — this selective fishing practice is a highly desirable and environmentally sound method of fishing — as by-catch (catching unwanted fish) is virtually non-existent using this method. Quickly compare and contrast this to driftnet fishing techniques that catch and kill everything and anything such as dolphins, sea turtles, etc — with 25% by-catch tossed back into the ocean as unwanted and dead.

Expedition leader Xavier Pastor encouraged our team to connect with these traditional fishermen to document their fishing practices. The next morning our three-person expedition team, departed the Marviva Med at 5am and drove north to the beautiful small town of Ganzirri, Sicily. Upon arrival, the fishermen and their two dogs welcomed us onboard their traditional ‘Felucca’ fishing boat.

Fishing near the coast within a predefined zone — the Italian captain and spotters perched sky high — located the swordfish on the surface. Once a swordfish is spotted the boat is quickly positioned for the harpooner to throw (by hand) a spear into the water and catch the fish. The harpooner is strategically extended as far forward as the cables will support from the bow of the boat so the sound of the engine does not scare the fish away.

Throughout the day the fishermen expressed immediate concerns for their livelihood—as they explained they are lucky to catch 1-2 fish a day. Embarrassed by current situation (small swordfish) but proud of their one thousand year tradition and livelihood they showed us pictures and bragged of years past when they caught numerous large swordfish. As they look to the future, they acknowledge perhaps tourism will provide them the much-needed additional income and a sustainable future.

We enjoyed our experience and meeting these fishermen!

The Oceana Marviva Med departs the Sicily tonight.