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Fishing in Puglia

Fish unloaded from boat, Mola di Bari

Last week I had my last thematic field trip with the university, studying the fishing industry in Puglia. Our trip was slightly disrupted by the unsettled weather that was affecting most of Italy and unfortunately we didn’t get to go out on boats and see fishing actually happening (unless you count seeing a small net-full of fish pulled out of the water in a fish farm). Anyway, there was plenty of other fish-related stuff…

Mola di Bari harbour

We were based mostly in Mola di Bari, just south of Bari. Helping organise our visit and informing us about the subject, we had the services of Antonio Vasile who is a buyer for Selecta and a master of food and Enrico Tarulli of ICRAM (Italian institute for marine research). After a brief introduction to fishing in the area and some of the fishing technologies used, we visited the harbour of Mola di Bari to watch returning boats sort and unload their catch. These were smallish boats with around 4 workers each. Many of the boats used the local municipal fish market building to sell their fish to the public.

Marinated scorpion fish, de Gustibus

That first night we ate in Mola di Bari at de Gustibus where they had an interesting technique of taking a raw fish apart and then reconstructing using the raw head, spine and tail with the cooked or marinated filleted fish placed back where the body of the fish had been, as above.

Aquaculture at Manfredonia

Wednesday morning we woke to beautiful clear sunny weather and travelled a couple of hours north by bus to Manfredonia on the southern coast of the Gargano peninsula. There we drove a kilometre or so out to sea on a long pier to where a deep water harbour and shipping terminal is situated. This was also the base for the aquaculture operation we were visiting. It looked like an ideal location, the fish enclosures being close to the headquarters yet a kilometre or so out from the coast. Here they raised sea bass, starting with 200,000 little fish in each 20 metre pen, halving that number as they grew bigger and reaching 3-400 grams after 2 years.

Shell-fishing boat, Margherita di Savoia

After a visit to the fish market in Manfredonia, a wholesale auction-type market, we returned south, briefly stopping at Margherita di Savoia next to the largest salt pans in europe. Here Enrico showed us the types of boat used to collect shell fish from the sea-bed. The contraption on the front is lowered to the sea floor and water is pumped through to suck items into the cage, which has specially sized holes to retain the correct sized shells. The cage is then winched up and the contents sorted by a mechanical size-sorter on the boat.

Mixed seafood at da Tuccino restaurant

That evening we ate at da Tuccino restaurant in Polignano a Mare. Antonio told us that it was one of the best fish restaurants in Italy. There was an extensive selection of seafood antipasti including oysters and raw mussels, I don’t think I had ever eaten raw mussels before. Anyway, the oyster I ate had the most incredible flavour, like an ultra concentrated essence of marine freshness, it was the best I’ve ever tasted.

The next morning the weather had changed back to dull greyness, wind and rain and our plans for going out with the fishing boats was cancelled. Antonio proposed an alternative plan of buying, preparing and cooking seafood for lunch instead.

Preparing lunch

At the fish market in Mola di Bari we bought scampi, sea snails, anchovies, sardines, and some other fish I didn’t recognise. Fresh pasta, olive oil, vegetables, fruit and wine gave us everything else we needed. For antipasti the scampi tails were peeled for eating raw. The anchovies were marinated in water and vinegar for a while before being bathed in olive oil with some fried onion.


The pasta was put together with some mixed seafood and then Antonio fried the mixed fish in olive oil for the second dish.

That evening we had a late dinner before heading for Molfetta to see the large wholesale fish market there, one of the biggest in Italy. We arrived just before they started at 2am as they were starting to bring in the crates of fish.

Molfetta fish market

The rooms quickly filled with boxes and then people, well only men actually and the auctioning began with a few auctioneers moving around the room dealing with a particular box of fish surrounded by a small group of buyers. By the time we left at 4am the stock had mostly been shifted.

Torre Guaceto

After a short sleep we headed south towards Brindisi and the Torre Guaceto marine reserve. The
director explained that the reserve is very young, having been fully operational only since 2001. It also covers a very small area (250 hectares of sea and 1,100 of land) which means that it is not really big enough to be a complete sanctuary for many species. After inauguration, they realised that they had disadvantaged some of the local fisherman who were using the area previously. Seeing their role as more holistic than simply protecting nature, they sought to include these fisherman in some way. They have now created a very interesting system where they have a few local fishermen who are licenced to fish in the reserve for one day a week. They have to take their catch to the reserve research centre where data is recorded on everything caught allowing monitoring of the health of the ecosystem. The data captured has shown that this level of catch is sustainable and the fisherman are content as they catch four times as much with their one day’s fishing as in other areas. Also, the reserve has created a system to sell the fish direct to clients which gives much higher prices than selling wholesale as previously. Seeing the benefits, some other local fisherman have now requested for an increase of size of the protection zone.

Torre Guaceto reserve farming

The land-based part of the reserve is mostly agricultural land and the reserve has been encouraging farmers to switch to organic methods. They have started schemes to market products from the area such as olive oil under a reserve branding and to a wide market, ensuring much higher incomes than standard local prices.

Making mozzarella, Caseificio Lanzillotti

Before heading for lunch we had a brief visit to the Caseificio Lanzillotti to see mozzarella being made. They are part of the consortium of Alto Salento producers.

For lunch we ate at the hosteria San Filippo in Carovigno. Carovigno is about 10km inland, so of course there was no fish for lunch. After 3 days of fish and white wine it was a really welcome change to drink red wine and eat land-based food even if the main dish was pasta with stewed horse. Our hosts from the reserve were very concerned about offering horse meat to an Englishman – they said they knew it might be similar to offering dog meat. However, being mostly vegetarian by choice, I don’t make much distinction on meats apart from on taste and it tasted pretty good.

On our way back towards Mola di Bari we happened to stop in Ostuni. This was where I first stayed in Italy in 1983, a holiday with my sister and father. We stayed in a house owned by his solicitor’s Italian wife. It was great to see it again as that trip had had a significant impact on my sense of taste and interest in Italy. It was when I had my first taste of an Italian cappuccino, and the memory of that experience remained throughout the years until I rediscovered it, first in Italy and then through finding the right coffee and equipment to recreate at home. In memory of that moment, we drank a coffee at the cafe I remembered drinking at all those years ago (at least I think we did – it was not easy to remember precisely).

The rest of the photos of the trip are here.

One Response

  1. sounds interesting man!

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