Sizzling sardines finally back on Portugal’s menu

Sunday (May 1) signalled the moment Portugal’s sardine fishermen have been waiting for. The end of a Brussels-imposed ban on the nation’s signature fish that has seen fishing communities left high and dry for the last seven months.

Implemented to give stocks time to grow and replenish, the hope now is that there are enough sardines in Portuguese waters to see EU quotas ‘relaxed’.

It is an issue that has inflamed fishermen up and down the country – with threats by syndicates that if Brussels doesn’t start to see things from fishing folks’ point of view, they will simply go it alone, come what may (click here).

But yesterday, in Matosinhos, Minister of the Sea Ana Paula Vitorino revealed that “recent studies point to an increase in sardine stocks in national waters”, writes Observador news website – suggesting the 14,000 ton quota currently shared with Spain could be increased to 19,000 tons.

Further scientific cruises have to be undertaken, Vitorino explained, as “it is important that we have the necessary information to convince Brussels that our stocks are recovering and we can maintain better fishing levels than those that have been stipulated”.

Contact with fishermen throughout this process is key, the minister added – as many putting to sea attest to seeing “huge shoals of sardines” in national waters.

Before (initiating scientific studies) Portugal had to base itself “exclusively” on “information gathered by the European Commission that was not up-to-date,” Vitorino stressed.

Thus the nation’s 2,000 sardine fishermen at last have a minister prepared to listen to them.

For now, limits imposed vary according to the size of the 150 boats in this once-lucrative sector.

As Carlos Cruz, president of APROPESCA explained to Lusa, this could see some netting more than their quota that will then have to be thrown back and effectively wasted.

Leixões fisherman Artur Caixeira told Correio da Manhã that he thinks many boats could bring in their annual quota in as little as a month, as there are so many sardines in the sea.

The last seven months have been “very difficult”, he added – with many like himself forced to eke out an existence on unemployment benefits.

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