It is one of the Algarve’s staple ingredients, but the truth is that there is hardly any octopus left in the region’s waters. The warning comes directly from the region’s octopus catchers, who say the situation is extremely dire and virtually unprecedented.
“The sea has never been like this,” Humberto Gomes from Fuzeta’s fishing association told Barlavento newspaper.
“Not even the elder fishermen remember a shortage like this,” he added.
The amount of octopus sold at the dock proves his point: in September 2016, 42 tons were sold, while last month only two tons were sold.
“We have been trying to implement a break in the fishing season for the last three years,” said Sónia Olim, a biologist at the association.
Her reasoning is that the species needs time to rebuild its stock.
As she explained, the only restriction fishermen face is that octopuses must weigh at least 750 grams.
But even these smaller molluscs are not being spared.
“This obviously makes the problem worse, as smaller octopuses are already carrying eggs. In other words, the next generation is being killed. But this is a matter of survival for fishermen,” Olim told Barlavento.
The issue, she believes, is that there are just too many octopus catchers.
“Each boat has a limit, but there is no way to control if they follow it or not at sea,” the biologist said.
“We understand this is very hard to monitor. But there have to be other measures. A more coherent management has to be implemented. Some catchers go out to sea all day and night,” Olim said, adding that a work schedule would help limit abusive fishing.
A similar shortage happened in 2003, and there have been years since in which stock levels dropped. But this year the issue is more serious than ever.
José Agostinho, president of the Algarve’s fishing association, told Barlavento that he spoke with the Secretary of State for Fishing at the start of the summer to implement a break in octopus fishing this summer.
It was supposed to be a 45-day break between August and September, but it never moved forward.
“The Western Algarve is experiencing a situation it never has. There is no octopus between Quarteira and Sagres. Everyone’s worried about the situation,” he said.
Miguel Cardoso from Olhãopesca is not as alarmist.
He says this is a period when a lot of the older octopuses die, leaving younger generations which are too young to catch.
“This period of shortages is normal,” he told Barlavento.
He explained that the sector has suggested implementing breaks before, but Portugal’s sea and atmosphere institute (IPMA) responded by saying that the species is “resilient, has a short life span, reproduces and develops very quickly” and thus it didn’t see any advantages in imposing a break.
But it was a decision that sparked outrage and, according to Cardoso, showed that there is “little political will” to implement measures.
Meantime, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Fishing has told the newspaper that he has instructed maritime agency DGRM to meet urgently with the Algarve’s fishing associations, adding that he is “naturally worried” about the situation.
Octopus is used in many of the Algarve’s most popular dishes.
‘Arroz de Polvo’ (octopus rice), ‘Polvo à Lagareiro’ (Lagareiro-style octopus) and ‘Cataplana de Polvo’ (a delicious stew cooked in a clam-shaped pot) are just some of the many popular dishes that use the mollusc as the main ingredient.
Photo: BRUNO FILIPE PIRES/OPEN MEDIA GROUP