Posts Tagged Sal Tringali

May 23 2015

In the same boat: Breaking bread and stereotypes with Monterey fishermen

From left, Sicilian fishermen Sal Tringali, Anthony Russo, Neil Guglielmo, Sam Mercurio and John Aliotti stand in front of Guglielmo’s boat, the Trionfo, at the Monterey Harbor. With them is Russo’s dog, Diesel. (David Royal — Monterey Herald)


Monterey >> When seven Sicilian fishermen invite me to lunch I happily accept, even when it’s clear they seem perturbed by media misrepresentation and daily threats to their livelihood.

“Why do they want to have lunch with you?” asks my adoring wife, eyebrows arched.

“It’s an offer I can’t refuse.”

“If you’re not home in an hour I’m going to worry.”

Three hours later we’re deep into our 10th course at Domenico’s on the Wharf, hosted by restaurateur and fisherman Sam Mercurio. At this point my bilge is full, and more than a few empty wine bottles stand as sentries to a ceremonial clearing of stereotypes.

There is no anger here — perhaps exasperation. These men are intelligent, charismatic, hilariously witty, and care deeply about protecting the oceans for future generations. They fit none of our ignorant labels save a few: They love to talk and eat, often at the same time.

Meet Neil Guglielmo. He’s widely known as The Anchovy King. For 57 years he’s fished the Pacific Ocean for everything from anchovies to barracuda. At the helm of his fishing vessel Trionfo, Guglielmo makes a living up and down our coast.

Guglielmo has a weathered face brightened by lively eyes that reflect something deeper. He’s affable and funny and you aren’t surprised to discover he spent several years on Broadway performing in musicals such as “Mamma Mia” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

We start our feast with fresh-caught anchovies, lightly floured and fried … headless. I grab them by the tail and devour them like French fries. A mound disappears as Guglielmo recounts the record squid catch of last year.

“There’s a lot of life on the bay right now,” he said. “The squid will come.”

That’s debatable. The ocean is fickle, and under attack. Take the sardines. After record seasons over the last decade, the Pacific Fishery Management Council canceled the upcoming season due to declining populations.

The fishermen agree with such management, and see the value in closing the sardine fishery this year. They just resent being blamed for the problem, especially when many scientists agree that the marine environment, predation and ocean temperatures lead to periodic sardine population fluctuations.

What bothers these tablemates most (rounding out the group are Sal P. Tringali, Anthony Tringali and Sal M. Tringali, owners of Monterey Fish Co.) are the accusations made by groups they feel are threatening their livelihood and reputations.

“Oceana said we overfished the sardines. That’s an outright lie, and irresponsible to report that in the paper,” said Anthony Russo, the outspoken captain of the vessel King Phillip.

Table silence.

“And they said we’re responsible for sea lions dying off,” he said. “That’s wrong, too. People write whatever they want to write. We’re busy working. We’re tired of hearing that fishermen are outlaws raping the ocean. We live here. Raise families here. The ocean is our livelihood and we see value in protecting it. Of course we do.”

They point to the rockfish fishery, which has made a comeback in large part because of fishermen who used their boats to work with scientists to monitor the fishery. Fishermen raised funds to purchase other boats and licenses to make the current fishery a limited entry. It proved that fishermen, government agencies and scientists could work together in an effective way.

The bad vibes dissipate with the arrival of a gigantic antipasti platter, laden with lightly fried calamari, pickled celery and plump Sicilian olives. Another pulled cork. Another story, this one about sustainability.

John Aliotti is practically the poster boy for the movement. He’s just finished the spot prawn season aboard his vessel Defense. His family helped start this fishery, creating special handmade traps that capture the spot prawns in the water column (around 800 feet deep off Carmel Canyon near Point Lobos). The pots allow smaller prawns to escape, limit by-catch and don’t destroy the sea bottom.

“We are here to preserve the fishery, catch enough to make a living and make sure we protect it for the future,” he said, slurping sweet Fanny Bay oysters from the shell along with the rest of us.

During the season Aliotti sets his pots six days a week at 2 a.m., and works through holidays and weekends. “If you have 30K worth of gear in the water, you can’t leave,” he said. “It’s your life.”

The Japanese call spot prawns “amaebi,” meaning “sweet shrimp,” and Aliotti sells much of his haul to Asian markets in San Jose because they will buy in large quantities. Monterey restaurants stand second in line, but friends such as Mercurio get their share.

“I haul them up in buckets right from the boat to the restaurant,” Mercurio said.

No spot prawns on the menu this day, but Mercurio brings out sand dabs, breaded and sautéed, spritzed with fresh lemon. Simple. Bacon-wrapped scallops and long spears of asparagus share the plate.

Next, oysters Rockefeller. This decadent spin on a classic includes spinach, pancetta, Parmesan and hollandaise, with a splash of Pernod in the mix, and a dollop of caviar on top.

At this point I’m listing considerably, and fear an actual coma. The stories continue. They talk seasickness, dogs, poetry, falling asleep at the wheel, the rising cost of fuel and the many perils at sea.

More food. Tiny pearls of acini de pepe pasta with Dungeness crab, roasted corn, garlic, lemon, tomatoes, scallions and Reggiano Parmigiano. Even a watchful pelican perched on a post outside the window seems impressed.

Thankfully, a palate cleanser (housemade orange sorbet) primes us for the finale: enormous Alaskan king crab legs from the Bering Sea, caught by some other fishermen friends of Mercurio, Jonathan and Andy Hillstrand from the vessel Time Bandit (and the popular TV show “Deadliest Catch”).

“Doesn’t need butter,” Mercurio said. “It’s so fresh you want to taste the crab.” He’s right.

Someone pours a round of Averna, a Sicilian liqueur that aids digestion. I hear my chair groan. Maybe it’s me. My notebook is filled with hieroglyphics. I will have to interpret another day.

I vaguely remember eating a few cannoli. Finally I rise with a wobble to excuse myself.

I leave with a new appreciation for commercial fishermen, their lives and their daily conundrum: They live to fish, and fish to live, but if they catch them all then all is lost. No boat, no income, no seafood feasts with friends.

“I’m the only one left, third generation from the old country,” Russo said. “It’s over after me. In the end we just want to be seen for who we are and what we stand for.”

Anthony Russo, left, and Neil Guglielmo talk about where the fish are while standing on a walkway at the Monterey Harbor. Russo owns the King Phillip and the Sea Wave, docked in Moss Landing Harbor. Guglielmo owns the Trionfo, docked in Monterey. (David Royal — Monterey Herald)