Portuguese eat 13 sardines a second – but it’s the lowest figure ever!

It may sound “astronomic” – in the words of national paper Público – but the truth is the figure has never been so low. Sardines are “disappearing” from Portugal’s coastline, and scientists are working overtime trying to find out why.

As June brings with it the traditional “Santos Populares” festivities, Portugal’s consumption of sardines is set to go into overdrive.

According to Público, an average of 35 million sardines is consumed during this special time – translating into “1,000,000 a day, 48,000 an hour and 805 a minute”.

But against all this seasonal gorging is the fact that sardine fishermen are bringing home the lowest catches for the last 75 years.

A yearly figure now for Portugal and Spain as a whole is in the region of 28,000 tons of fish, when 10 years ago nets hauled in at least 100,000 tons, and 30 years ago that figure was more like 200,000 tons, writes the paper.

Ironically, in 2012, after warning bells heralded this looming crisis, the government introduced quotas limiting fishermen throughout the year, as well as stopping sardine fishing altogether between the colder months of January and April. But still catches fell – dramatically in fact.

The 2012 total of 32,000 tons had dropped to half that number in Portugal by 2014, says Público.

So why haven’t these limits on sardine capture helped? According to scientists, it is very possibly a case of climate change.

The north wind, that favours sardines when it blows in the summer, threatens their survival if it blows in the winter.

This has been happening more since 1999, while generally temperatures in the sea have been increasing – another factor that works against sardines, but favours, for example, mackerel.

The worry, explains Público, is that even with quotas and bans, it could take “decades” to recover stocks, as shown in a similar crisis in California where sardine stocks “collapsed” in the 1950s and took “40 years to recover”.

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