Editor’s Note: David Salvatori’s amazing mola mola shots raised suspicion that the fish were photographed in the process of capture. Far from it: As this Behind the Shot reveals, the images document a local awareness of the marine environment.
The nets are closing in… and the sunfish are in a flutter!
My images of mola mola capture an ancient fishing conservation practice that dates back to the 1600s. Employing one of the few remaining tonnara fishing nets in the Northern Mediterranean, this practice can be observed annually between April and September in the waters of Camogli, near Genoa, Italy.
A tonnara is a complex, yet very old tuna-fishing trap in which nets are suspended from floats and several small boats. The principle behind the trap is simple: fish swim along the shore, enter the maze of nets and are pulled up before they can find their way out.
Camogli serves as a beautiful backdrop for the tonnara
While the tonnara of Camogli yield a variety of small and medium-sized market fish, for a very short period in the spring months, the nets are invaded on a daily basis by a huge number of mola mola. The time and duration of this invasion is yet to be understood, but one theory is that it is driven by lunar cycles. After that period ends, they disappear as suddenly as they came.
Fortunately, the tonnara fishermen aren’t interested in the mola mola. Thus, these images are not about the capturing of mola mola, but their release—the fishermen return the mola mola to the sea each time they pop up in their nets. It involves a great deal of extra work for the fishermen, because they have to release hundreds of the giant sunfish every day over the period in which they appear. However, it’s an awareness of the species’ larger value that motivates these local fishermen—it’s their unwritten agreement with the sea.
A big, beautiful mola mola comes in really close to my dome
Hundreds of mola mola get trapped in the nets…
… but they are released by the fishermen every day
My silhouette in the net—thanks for the picture, Pietro
While many species, such as bluefin tuna, have all but disappeared from the Mediterranean due to industrial overfishing, traditional fishing activities remain an important element of local maritime culture. Such practices are often more in sync with natural reproduction cycles and respectful of a correct equilibrium between our needs and the ocean’s.
Italy is a country with a strong maritime tradition, and it’s my belief that it’s important to document such activities using photography to remind ourselves that it is possible for humankind and the ocean to coexist—an alliance that is too often forgotten.
The marina of Camogli, near Genoa
To see more of David’s work, check out his website: www.ilmaresonoio.com.
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