“Bigeye Tuna” or “The Tuna that hails from Mellieha” was the cry of Mellieha fishermen who in the early sixties sold bluefin tuna which they caug by Tuna net fishing. This system of fishing for tuna has stopped but in the museum at Mellieha bay, a voluntary organisation has conserved remains found in a historical battery, which fishermen used as a store for their nets.
The Mellieħa Local Council began a restoration project of the Westreme battery, located at Mellieha Bay, and which today serves as a Tuna museum. The battery was built 300 years ago at the time of Grand Master Ramon Perellos. For many years it served fishermen as a store for tuna bow fishing: the way fishermen from the northern part of Malta would fish for tuna. In the last fifteen years, the place began to be used as a museum looked after by volunteers of the Art Club 2000.
Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds, Aaron Farrugia, said the council had obtained € 400,000 from EU funds for the restoration of the museum. Mayor Dario Vella said that in addition to European funds, the Council has to put out another € 100,000. “With these funds we will be restoring the building’s exterior. We will also be restoring the place on the inside,” said the mayor. He went on to say that the museum will have an interpretation center, with audio-visual means for the exhibits to be better presented to visitors.
Architect Joseph Attard said the battery was built from Mellieha stone, which will be restored using this type of stone from buildings being demolished in Mellieha. He said that the thick wall is composed of two separate shells . “Inside is filled with soil and other substance which we call debris. With time water seeped inside and the outer shell began to break. We will have to tear down the outer shell, enumerate the stones which need to be changed using this stone, “explained the architect Attard.
The exhibits in the museum include original articles, nets and tools, which were used for tuna fishing. The curator of the museum Toni Valletta explained that the method of tuna fishing was like an island of nets that fishermen would cast in the bay between July and September to catch tuna. The last one was used in 1962 in Mellieha. He explained that a vessel would be mounted at the tip of the Ahrax and the net would be tied to it and pulled inside.
“It consisted of four kilometres of net. They’d make a mesh wall and this would be tied to what is known as Slugs Bay. It would be tied there and would reach mid-bay. So you would have half the beach closed for fish. ” explained the curator.
He went on to say that when the tuna would come into the bay from the Selmun side on turning it would find the net wall and would end up inside the tuna net which would close as a result of which the tuna would remain trapped inside three net until the fishermen come for them and performed the killing of the fish.