FISHING WITH THE PASSERELLA

In the Strait of Messina, fishermen hunt the swordfish using a harpoon. It is an updated version of an ancient fishing spear used by the Phoenicians who traded the length and breadth of the Mediterranean hundreds of years before the time of Christ.

For over five decades, the harpooning of swordfish has been practiced on engine boats called passerellas, which are strange looking vessels that seem to hover over the water along the coast. They have a 30 meter tall mast, called the antenna, and a 40 meter bowsprit from where the fisherman harpoons his prey. The fish hears the noise of the engine from afar and has no knowledge of its destiny. Whereas most other fish are not seen until they are caught, either by hook or by net, the swordfish hunt doesn’t begin until the fish is sighted. It is much closer to an animal hunt on land than it is to what one normally thinks of as fishing.

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The hunt begins with the spotter, whose job it is to identify the presence of the swordfish and to inform the lanzaturi (the harpoonist) and the entire crew using gestures and shouted words. The spotter also drives the boat from the top of the antenna and gives directions to the harpooner who after aiming with the tip of the rod, estimates the trajectory towards the fish and launches the harpoon.

Once harpooned, the fish is allowed a lot of line which gives it a temporary feeling of freedom. Once weakened from the struggle and loss of blood, it is hauled into the boat.