The traditional Maltese method of fishing for Lampuki by using a Kannizzata.
A curious emblem of Malta is the lampuka, since it is only a migrating Fish that passes by the Maltese islands around autumn. Yet the fish has earned an important role in Maltese tradition.
Known by several other names, such as dorado, dolphin fish, or mahi mahi, the coryphaena hippurus is, in fact, Malta’s national fish and even appeared on the ten cents coin before the euro was introduced.
While on display at the fish market, with blank eyes and gaping mouth, the lampuka does not seem attractive. In its natural habitat, however, you might be surprised by its beauty, with its blue-green sheen and golden belly (hence the name “dorado”). The males are distinguished by a prominent forehead.
Not much is known about the breeding and migrating habits of the lampuka, but enough is known about its preference to shelter under floating objects to make its capture easy by very clever means.
The beginnings of the Traditional Maltese Method of capturing Lampuki by the use of a “kannizzata” (plural: kannizzati) is not known, however it is thought to date back to Roman times. Curiously, the fishing technique has only in recent years been recognised for its efficiency and adopted by other fishermen of the Mediterranean, such as those in Sicily.
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So what is a kannizzata? It is a sort of raft made from cork, polystyrene, sacks and palm-leaves, which is set afloat while being anchored to the seabed. Lampuki fish tend to school beneath it, allowing for easy capture by fishermen using a net.
But how did the idea of a kannizzata materialise and how are lampuki actually caught?
First of all, Maltese fishermen noticed the tendency of lampuki to take shelter under floating objects. Precisely why they do this is unknown; some say it is to take shelter from the sun, others claim it is to hide from predators. Seeing this, the fishermen set out to create large floats that could shelter entire schools of fish.
The kannizzata consists of one or two large slabs of cork or polystyrene which are connected loosely by a loop passing through holes bored at the end of each float and anchored by a slab of limestone. In the early 1970s, a fisherman noticed that lampuki are attracted to feast on the algae and other growths that develop on palm leaves floating in the sea, so he tied some fronds to his float; his idea was so successful that, henceforth, the larger, lower fronds from palm trees came to be weaved into kannizzati.
A luzzu - Traditional Maltese Fishing boat - is generally used to pull the constructed raft out to sea, where it is placed in a designated place so as not to interfere with the kannizzati of other fishermen. A successful year for a local full-time fisherman largely depends on the catch of this particular fish and, therefore, independent fishing grounds are carefully allocated.
The lampuki season may amount to up to 40% of a Maltese fisherman’s income for the year, with the fish being consumed locally and exported; the mere volume indicates that lampuki have been an important source of food for the Maltese since centuries, which is probably why it has gained popularity.
Fishing for lampuki traditionally happens around midday. The fishermen circle the kannizzata at a 5-10 metre radius, trolling until a fish takes bait. They leave it at the side of the boat to attract the other fish, then throw a mesh net over and around the school to capture them all. A long pole hook is used to slip the kannizzata between the foot ropes and under the net, which is then hauled in.
Visit the village of Marsaxlokk, Malta, between August and December - the lampuki season - to see fishermen making the kannizzata.
The other two fishing seasons in Malta are the trawling season (December to April), when fishermen trawl seabeds to catch fish that live at depth, and the lamp season (May to August), when fish are attracted to the surface by use of a bright lamp at night, and captured in a net.
The boats commonly used by Maltese fishermen are the Luzzu and the Kajjik (pronounced kayyik). The colourful boats are traditionally painted in blue, red and yellow, with two large eyes to ward off bad luck. The Luzzu has two pointed ends, while the Kajjik has a flat back end. Other larger fishing boats, equipped to different degrees, are the Frejgatina, Skuna and Trawler, which allow for longer, offshore fishing trips.
How to prepare Lampuki dish:
Contributor: Melanie Drury