Planche XXVIII

houel plate 28

The tonnara can be compared with the almadraba, the tuna fishing technique used in Andalusia and Algarve since the Middle Ages. All Sicilian tonnare are very much the same but they may vary in terms of their size, in the number of net compartments used, and according to the local irregularities of the land. The technique is as follows: a net is fastened on the shore of a relatively shallow beach, up to one mile wide. The illustration shows a net tightly fastened with two big stones or anchors, fig. 1, fig. 2, and kept on the surface with two sea perches and large pieces of cork, a material very abundant in Sicily. All the nets let small fish pass through, but trap the tuna inside. The nets are divided into inter-connected compartments; as soon as one compartment is full, it is closed by a net. When all the compartments are full, the fishermen open the doors of the spaces and the captured fish go to the so-called death chamber (K). The nets have to resist the violent struggle of the fish.

In illustration XXX the net is being pulled up. We can see the fish already on the surface shaking desperately and some dolphins and sword-fish have also been caught. Some fishermen hit the tuna with their harpoons and others put them on board, also using their harpoons. There is blood all over the place. Hoüel admitted to having seen about six hundred tuna captured in less than ninety minutes in this manner and he described how the tuna changed their colour as they were dying. The tuna fish roe was very valuable; people considered it a delicacy.

Planche XXX

houel plate 30

When all the fish were on board, the fishermen cheerfully got into the water to clean themselves. This spectacle was considered quite a show by local people. Hoüel was deeply impressed by the violence of this fishing technique, which had been used by both the Ancient Greeks and the Romans and is still employed today1.

Once at the harbour, the fish were grouped and laid them in rows of ten (see Plate 28, fig. 4). By drawing lots, a quota of the catch was delivered to the Archbishop of Palermo and to the Great Admiral. Roberto Rossellini immortalized the tonnara in his film Stromboli2 (1950).


1. (accessed 25/02/13)

2. ROSSELLINI, Roberto: Stromboli, 1950 (accessed 25/03/13)