By: Ruth Sharpe
SPEAK TO any fisherman in the Algarve and he will make one thing clear – the fishing industry is in crisis.
Last year was alarming for the Portuguese fishing industry, highlighted earlier this month when Docapesca (the company that controls Portugal’s fishing ports) released figures for the income generated between January and November of 2006. The Algarve was an astonishing 26 per cent down on 2005, seeing a drop of seven million euros.
As a country, a decrease of 5.1 per cent was registered, translating as 11 million euros less than 2005. Twelve out of the 19 ports in question registered losses, including all eight in the Algarve. Santa Luzia market in Tavira recorded the worst result in the country, 46 per cent down on its 2005 figures.
If this trend continues, there is no doubt that it will have dire consequences for the Algarvean economy, especially when 29 per cent of the country’s fish comes from this region.
There are many reasons behind this negative trend, one being the lack of quality resources available for professional fishermen. Furthermore, estimates reveal that there are 70 per cent less boats in the region than there were last year. According to local fishermen, this stems from “insufficient funding”.
It is not only the economy that is working against the fishing industry, but the climate. Storms are less frequent than they used to be and this means that food is generated deep in the ocean, therefore fish are less likely to come to the surface. The currents have also been working against fishermen, taking shoals away from recognised fishing areas.
The most important reason, however, is that there are less fish in the sea than there used to be, especially sardines and mackerel, which represent half of all the ocean life caught in the Algarve. The second most common catch in the Algarve is octopus, which is now also becoming a rarity. This has had a particularly bad impact on Tavira, as the port dedicates itself to catching this species.
The detrimental impact has been worsened because the price of fish in the Algarve has not followed the national trend. Prices have actually lowered in half of the Algarve fish markets, most notably in Sagres and Portimão, two of the country’s most important fishing ports.
One local resident summed up the situation many professional fishermen now face, stating: “All these factors mean that I now have to work for 13 or 14 hours a day to survive.”
Antonio Teixeira, from the Associaçao de Armadores da Pesca Artesanal do Barlavento Algarvio, shares the opinion that there are less fish, but believes that the real reason behind the statistics is the fact that the Algarve fleet “is old and boats are unused because of lack of personnel”.
Another local fisherman elaborated on this, stating that “despite help from the EU, the Portuguese government refuses to give sufficient support to the sector and our working conditions are degrading as a result.”
The EU has committed 224 million euros to Portugal as part of the European Fisheries Fund (EFF), an initiative that will provide approximately 3.8 billion euros to the fishing industry from 2007 to 2013.
Combined with national funding, Portugal should have 300 million euros to invest in the fishing industry in the next six years. It is unlikely that these funds will go towards building new vessels, but rather improve existing boats by installing new motors that use less gas and other innovative methods, therefore encouraging a national movement towards modernisation.
One vendor from Lagos fish market described how “Portugal has been caught out. Fishing methods remain very traditional and while this is popular among locals, it cannot compete with the rest of Europe and will ultimately result in a loss for all of us”. Another common complaint from fishermen in the region is that they are constantly competing with Spanish fishing boats, some revealing that “over 80 per cent of the hauls in our waters are taken by the Spanish”.
The Estado das Pescas is trying to avert the downward spiral through new licensing laws. Around 40,000 recreational fishing licences were released at the beginning of the year, generating over half a million euros for the industry.
“It is an important aid for fishing professionals, due to the limits that are being implemented, not only for biological reasons, but also due to meteorological conditions,” states Luis Viera from the Estado das Pescas. Viera also announced that from February 1, 11 out of the 14 types of licences that have been issued this year will be applicable to Moroccan waters as part of an agreement signed between the EU and Morocco. Portugal now has an annual share of 60,000 tons of the fish in Moroccan waters.
Licences can now be obtained from Multibanco machines for as little as three euros. Viera hopes that the ease of getting licences will attract younger people to the industry. “There needs to be some incentive for younger people to get involved,” concludes Viera.
Despite these attempts at rejuvenating the industry, the outlook among the Algarve’s fishermen is bleak. Rui Varinhos from the Vila Real Boat Owners Association summed up the general feeling in a dramatic fashion stating: “The funeral for the Algarve fishing sector has been announced, all we need to know now is the exact date of death.”
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