ALGARVIAN FISHERMEN RISK LIFE AND LIMB FOR SPORT & A GOOD MEAL
Portugal, with a 525-mile-long coastline, has depended on seafaring to survive for centuries. Its pioneering navigators began charting the Atlantic before Christopher Columbus was born. The sea, its conquest and the harvesting of its fish have become cornerstones of Portugal’s traditions and fishing has long formed an integral part of Portuguese culture and diet for centuries. Today, the Portuguese eat more fish than anyone else in Europe. In days gone by, fishermen would vie with each other to set records: who could stay at sea longest, who could bring home the most Bacalhão-dried, salted codfish. Bacalhão is Portugal’s national dish, is eaten for Christmas dinner and lately an expensive import.
Commercial fishing as a major economic activity in Portugal has declined almost 10% in the past 10 years. Much of Portugal’s ocean-going fishing fleet has been deprived of its traditional fishing grounds by treaties and regulations. Working with outdated equipment closer to home, coastal fishermen here are threatened by neighboring Spain’s armada, the largest in the European Union. New EU regulations and cheaper, frozen fish from elsewhere mean many once-proud Portuguese fishermen are mothballing their boats and retiring from the sea. Yet with fishing in their blood, a living to be made and families to be fed, many Portuguese take to dangerous methods to get their bait into deep waters – Cliff fishing.
Cliff fishing is both precarious and common. It is perhaps Portugal’s deadliest sport and in the photo (Dick Keely – www.PhotoKeely.com) you can see why. At the spectacular Cape St. Vincent in Sagres, the most southwesterly point in europe, fishermen risk their lives to catch a meal and a buck. Anglers balance on a cliff many meters above sea level, sometimes getting there by dangling from ropes tied to their cars parked at the top. They carry cumbersome loads of tackle and bait and like mountain goats scamper to their preferred spot. This is a dramatic spectacle but don’t get too close! Almost every year across Portugal rock fishermen are killed by unexpected large waves, cliff falls and drowning.
The highly skilled local fishermen are after gropers, jewfish, turbot, moray eels, conger eels, sea bream, gilthead bream, bass, mackerel, garfish, and mullet and make it look easy. Prawns, sardines, worms and mackerel pieces make effective bait. The fishermen do this out of passion and functionality. Some days they go home with nothing. Other days they catch enough to feed the family and then some. Inquisitive tourists can also often fall victim to the fragile rocks and hungry sea. The cliff tops in Portugal are rarely marked with safety rails, so be extremely careful if you visit these areas. Stand well back and keep a hold of children. Obviously, even if you are a keen experienced angler, you should never try this without a very experienced local guide!