A sustainable girotonno?

FOR five years now at Carloforte – the only town on the island of Saint Peter, an island lying on the south coast of Sardinia and closely connected by a 40-minute ferry ride – has been celebrating the Girotonno: four days of events that include cultural, artistic, oenological and gastronomic meetings, not to mention the live music, performances, conventions and debates. This event aims to highlight the ancient tradition and culture of the tuna, and how it is historically linked to the territory.

It is a small island with a population of 5000 mainly made up of fishermen and their families. It was originally settled by Tunisians with the result that its food, customs and costumes are unique. Four days in May are dedicated to the ancient tradition of tuna, tuna fishing and the tuna cuisine competition.

Saint Peter has been recorded as one of the earliest places in history for tuna fishing and for the last five years at the Girotonno chefs from all over the world compete in the tuna cuisine competition. It is the only opportunity to experience this cultural exchange of tuna traditions, the life and the economy of this community.

The migration of tuna had been noticed by Aristotle who described the migratory habits of tuna. In his History of Animals he tried in vain to find a logical answer to their seasonal regularity of their migration. Phoenicians and Carthaginians stamped their coins with an image of a blue fin tuna and in more recent history Arabs, Spaniards and Italians incorporated tuna into their diets and culture. The Venetians, Arabs, Romans and Spaniards took advantage of fishing the seas around the migratory habit of the blue fin tuna. Around the ninth century in Sicily, during the Arab occupation, the ritual of the mattanza was developed. For centuries the tuna have been seasonally trapped in May and early June along the southern coasts of Sicily and Sardinia on their way from the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern Mediterranean and into the Black Sea to spawn.

The Northern Atlantic blue fin tuna Thunnus thynnus inhabits the North Atlantic Ocean, and are migratory fish that spawn either in the Gulf of Mexico or the Mediterranean Sea. They can live up to 40 years, weigh from 136 to 680 kilos and can reach 2-3 metres in length. They can attain swimming speeds of 60km per hour, and migrate from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean in as little as 60 days. The blue fin holds an almost mythic position among the world’s pelagic fish.

One of the world’s few truly warm-blooded fish, the blue fin is able to maintain its body temperature between 10° and 20° Fahrenheit higher than the surrounding water. The principal advantage of this ability is increased muscle power; muscles contract more rapidly when warm without loss of energy. As a result, the blue fin is able to swim very fast and travel very long distances.

Fascinating as this information is, the blue fin tuna is sadly on the critically endangered list. Traditionally the mattanza was a sustainable one but ever since the beginning of fishing as a global industry in the 1960s with the move to sonar and satellite technology, the blue fin tuna stocks are much depleted.

Greenpeace: state of southern blue fin tuna
Environmental justice foundation
The Daily Telegraph London report
The Independent report: chef removes blue fin tuna from menu
Environmental news service Australia

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