‘There are plenty of tuna,’ said Signor Tonno. ‘Red tuna – you call them blue fin – yellow fin, bonito, palamita. Whatever people say, there are plenty.’
We were sitting on the sea front of Sant’Antioco. Signor Tonno is Fernando Fosio, a trim man, with a trim moustache, very, very canny brown eyes and a thirty-a-day habit.
‘The trouble is that it’s not properly policed. For example, at the mattanza that happens at Carloforte in May each year, the tuna trapped in the nets are carefully counted. The number of tuna they can kill in the mattanza is strictly controlled. But let’s say the number in the nets are more than the kill quota, they’re kept alive, transferred to other nets and slowly taken to Malta, where the controls aren’t so strong. They’re fattened up off Malta, and then sold to the Japanese market.’
He suggested that this process wasn’t just restricted to the mattanza surplus. ‘There’s a strong Black Market, too’, he said. ‘what do you expect when taxes are so high and there’s so much bureaucracy? The incentive to get around the rules is pretty strong.’
Fernando Fosio wasn’t always Signor Tonno. At one time he was an engineer, building all over the region. This experience has made him open-minded about the tuna business, sceptical of official statistics and intolerant of officialdom in general When he retired, he started smoking salmon out of curiosity and to have something to do, and from that branched out into canning tuna. His business, Solky, is small scale, strictly artisan and literally hands-on. There’s a cluttered office and a small production kitchen behind the most unassuming of doors in a side street of Sant’Antiocco.
This is where the tuna come, each carefully documented and authenticating that it’s been line-caught, to be dismembered, the pieces steamed in salt water before being carefully broken down into smaller pieces and canned or smoked. Fernando’s niece and a young man were painstakingly peeling away the skin, and separating strata’s of grey-brown tuna flesh into pieces that, later, will be packed into tins and covered with extra virgin olive oil and sold under the generic brand of Carloforte.
‘The scientists have been telling us that the blue fin tuna is almost extinct for years,’ said Signor Tonno, ‘and yet they come back in good numbers every year. I’m all in favour of quotas if they’re properly enforced. But only the fishermen really know how many fish are out there.’ He waved his hand at the open sea.