Tonnara translates into trap, and this word is perhaps not a million miles away from describing the vast nets that have long been used to haul in tuna fish from the ocean around Sicily.
The origins of tuna fishing in Sicily go back a lot further than you may think – all the way back to ancient times. Today there are still indications of several large tuna fisheries on the island, and unless you choose to stay somewhere along the southern coastline the chances are good that you will be pretty close to at least one. The westernmost fishery is Favignana, while Bonagia and San Vito lo Capo are not far away to the north. Down in the south-eastern reaches of the island you can find tuna fisheries in Vendicari and Portopalo among other areas.
It should be noted however that tuna is declining in numbers and with restrictions placed on the amount that can be fished, tuna fishing is not as widespread or as popular a profession on the island as it once was. One can only imagine what it must have been like to manage with nets in ancient times, when there must have been plenty of tuna in the sea to be caught.
Just a few decades ago the picture on the island was very different to how it appears today. The tonnaras were in operation in many locations on the island, and they were doing great business too. Now it is very different, although the Tonnara di Scopello has remained firm and has preserved everything in the large warehouses that once saw great activity in tuna canning. Everything stopped there in 1984 and there may still be hope that things may carry on at some point.
Until and unless that happens, the Tonnara di Scopello stands as a sharp reminder of what once was. This is a site that dates back to ancient times and holds many memories of what tuna fishing was like. In many ways nothing much changed between those times and 1984, when it all came to an end.
Of course you will still have the opportunity to have a taste of some tuna when you visit Sicily. The most traditional of recipes is breaded tuna steak which is gently fried to perfection. However the meaty nature of the tuna steak means you can simply buy some to sear on the barbecue if you happen to have access to one at your chosen holiday villa. What better way to enjoy a nice evening meal than to perfectly sear some tuna steaks and serve them with a light salad – perhaps while thinking about the history behind their capture.