Fishermen from Olhão, Quarteira and Albufeira led a protest flotilla on Saturday against the project to create the Pedra do Valado Marine Park – accusing the authorities of a lack of dialogue.
“The process that was carried out to create this marine park was neither consensual nor democratic,” Hugo Martins, president of the Association of Fishermen and Shipowners of Quarteira (Quarpesca), told Lusa news agency.
“We have been ignored. We are very harmed, and we want to be heard.”
The association includes 140 vessels from Quarteira, of which about 50 operate regularly in the area that is now proposed for the implementation of the park.
In Quarpesca’s view, fishermen could be financially compromised to the tune of €3 million, if the park is allowed to go ahead in the ways outlined.
A statement issued by organisations behind the project – the Center for Marine Sciences (CCMAR) of the University of Algarve, and Fundação Oceano Azul (FOA), the Blue Ocean Foundation – has refuted fishermen’s claims, saying that they are “based on diverse arguments” that “do not correspond to the reality of the facts”.
The Pedra do Valado Marine Natural Park is the largest coastal rock reef in mainland Portugal. It extends between the municipality of Lagoa and that of Albufeira, covering a total area of more than 150 km2. Its proposed classification as an Algarve Reef Marine Natural Park (PNMRA) was approved in early June, with public consultation ending earlier this month (August 4).
But while CCMAR and FOA are full of praise for the participatory process, Hugo Martins of Quarpesca believes “the public consultation document is empty and has no ideas, we don’t know anything (…)”.
“The government should talk directly to us,” he went on, ostensibly continuing with his criticism of how the process has been conducted this far.
In the words of CCMAR, this reef is one of the “richest and most productive areas in the region, with many species with a commercial interest and interest in conservation, including species new to science”. But – and this is the driving force behind the push to ‘preserve’ the stretch of coastline – the Algarve has lost a considerable part of its natural values in recent decades due to pressure from fishing and tourism.
“If we do not change this trajectory, we run the risk of reaching 2050 and losing the wealth of biodiversity and natural capital that we have left,” the executive director of the foundation championing the project explained earlier this year.
To this, Quarpesca has stated the obvious, in a comprehensive text in Jornal Barlavento: “If fishing was not sustainable and co-managed by fishermen, the biodiversity of Pedra do Valado wouldn’t exist as it does today. Fishing is an economic activity and, as an economic activity, it has to be sustainable. That’s why fishing in the Algarve region has to be seen as a whole and not as areas of interest, since the whole region functions as a sustainable ecosystem”.