Searching for Tight Lines in a Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of sunrises. It was the worst of hangovers. My fishing trip had been postponed twice due to high winds so the expedition had fallen finally on the morrow of my birthday celebrations. Arriving at Port Hercule for 7am, my partner and I stepped gingerly aboard the fishing boat feeling a little green around the gills. Rugged fisherman Eric Rinaldi gave us his forearm to avoid a fishy handshake.

The Rinaldis mean to fishing in Monaco what the Rosbergs mean to motorsports. With fishing roots in the principality for over a century, the family moved from Ventimiglia to Monaco after WW1. Having fished since the age of 16 with his father André (who passed away five years ago), Eric is the fourth generation of the Rinaldi fishing clan. You could say that fishing is in his DNA.

As Eric prepared for us to depart, I looked around the deck with its suspended white buoys and black plastic barrels brimming with ice and bright red nets. He had been up since 4am laying out fishing nets and hosing down the deck ready for our arrival. The principality was still asleep as our tub chugged out of the port past the super yachts glinting like white whales in the red sunrays. I gazed sleepily at this tale of two cities: timeworn reality juxtaposed against a jet-setting dream world.

Inside the cabin, I found Eric surrounded by computer screens and an inter-fishermen radio communication network. One computer showed a colour-coded marine map detecting water depth and fish presence, while another screen displayed dozens of geo-references marking his buoys up to 70km from the shore.

“In summertime, I fish daily when fish stocks are fullest,” Eric told me. “I fish between Corsica and the Continent to catch swordfish. Other regular catches include red mullet, scorpion fish, langoustines (Dublin bay prawns) and pelamyde (Aristotle’s tuna).

Half an hour later, we reached a line of buoys marking where Eric had laid out his 25-metre fishing net earlier that morning. A system of pulleys drew in the net slowly. The first five catches weren’t fish, but sea cucumbers. Asian diners might wolf down these leathery creatures, but they’re a tough sell for European taste buds.

“The more you touch them, the harder they become,” he laughed handing me a phallic echinoderm that proceeded to squirt a jet of water in my direction (apparently part of their defence mechanism) before I threw it back into the sea.

Back on deck, I noticed transparent globules pooling onto the floor from the netting. Jellyfish had got caught up in the net as they sometimes did at this time of year. Just then, the radio crackled into life as another fisherman asked Eric how he was doing.

C’est la carnasse de méduses (It’s jellyfish carnage),” Eric radioed his colleague. “I won’t catch much fish today.”

Five minutes later, the fishing net finally offered up a foot-long Pelamyde (Aristotle’s tuna). More of these silvery white fish followed. Eric untangled each fish carefully from the net before placing it under ice in a bucket. 

While these fresh fish looked splendid, I reflected that the days were long gone when May brought thousands-strong shoals of sardines and anchovies to the Riviera coastline. Decades of overexploitation, pollution and deoxygenation have depleted our oceans of fish. If overfishing doesn’t decrease, it is predicted that commercial fish stocks will collapse by 2050. Prince Albert is keen to promote more sustainable fishing methods so dragnet fishing is banned off Monaco shores.

With his fish safely stored under ice and the fishing nets stowed away, we set back on our homeward journey. Eric rummaged inside his cabin before handing me a shiny stone of St Lucy (the saint famed for her mythically beautiful eyes) as a gift: “I thought of you when I found this”, he said to me and then turned to my partner. “It will bring you both good luck.”

Tucking into red mullet over lunch that same day, I mused that Eric deserves good luck too. A century ago, there were 10 fishing families in Monaco. Now there is only one. Eric Rinaldi is as endangered a species as some of his splendid fish.

U Luvassu Poissonnerie

Eric has opened a new harbour-fronted fish shop, U Luvassu (La Digue, Port Hercule, tel +33 6 80 86 44 66, that is open from 8am to 2pm daily. This pristine store is conveniently located for yachties in a wooden-paneled building along the jetty opposite the Monaco Yacht Club. Everything is refrigerated for optimum hygiene from the cleaning area to the refuse room where cold temperatures reduce fishy smells. Here you’ll find the freshest fish in the principality.

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