Sardine: the Elusive Catch

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The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has recommended that sardine fishing in Portugal should be suspended for a minimum of 15 years.

The same scientific body has recommended a “zero catch in 2018”, stating that excessive fishing is endangering the species, leading to huge shortage of sardines in the Iberian seas.

Both Portugal and Spain have been advised since 2010 by the by European Council for the Exploration of the Sea to restrict sardine catching, which are the most Portuguese fish, but the measure had no effect in the Iberian fishing industry, progressively leading to a depleted marine environment and decrease of catches.

Unfortunately it is not only a Portuguese problem, it is a worldwide trend.

In the U.S. West Coast Pacific of California the sardine population is down 95% since 2006 and many fisheries have shut down operations for the third consecutive year to protect sardines and the ocean wildlife dependent on sardines, with the objective of supporting sustainable fishing communities for the future.

These are shocking news for Portugal where cuisine revolves around fish and the sardine is an icon gastronomic way of life.

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Sardines are fished and sold by the thousands of tonnes every year in Portugal, where they are a symbol of many festivities around the country, sometimes eaten as simply as between two slices of bread, pushed down with a glass of red wine.

The Portuguese Government is reluctant to adopt such drastic measures to curtail sardine catch and the negotiations with the European concerned institutions have to take in consideration, not only the future of the national fishing fleets, but also what sardines mean as an “emblematic” cooking tradition, as much as meat “braai” stands for South Africa gastronomy.

While assuming that a 15-year ban on fishing is unthinkable, what is yet to come is that nothing will be as before for the future of the sardine, as Portuguese authorities ponder whether to apply restrictions according European proposals.

In the meantime the sardine price more than tripled in six years, the average price showing of 222% increase between 2010 and 2016, according to Portuguese marketing sources.

Will the sardine becoming an elusive catch, no longer the meal for the poorer, like codfish, which was an essential element of the Portuguese cooking and staple diet for centuries, turning into a delicacy not affordable for everybody.

 


 

As restrições à pesca da sardinha na costa Ibérica estão a causar apreensão, não só na comunidade piscatória e na indústria de conservas, mas também aos portugueses em geral, para os quais as sardinhas assadas são um prato tradicional na cozinha portuguesa e manjar preferido dos arreais e das festa populares.

O Conselho Internacional para a Exploração dos Mares (ICES, na sigla inglesa) tem estado a aconselhar, tanto Portugal como a Espanha, desde há cerca de uma década, a uma drástica redução da pesca da sardinha, para travar o declínio e até a extinção da espécie.

Contudo, há cerca de um mês, o mesmo organismo recomemdou, não só a imediata suspensão da pesca da sardinha já para o próximo ano, sugerindo ainda para evitar o extermínio que se prolongue o embargo piscatório por um período de quinze anos.

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A recomendação não tem carater vinculativo pois, ao contrário das restantes quotas de pesca, atribuídas pela União Europeia, as da sardinha são geridas e fixadas por Portugal e Espanha.

Deste modo, a Comissão Europeia não proíbe a pesca da sardinha, mas aconselha às autoridades portuguesas que ponderem os efeitos das quebras na população da espécie, devido a excessiva apanha de peixe, situação que é ainda agravada pelos efeitos da poluição dos oceanos.

O governo português encontra-se perante o dilema de criar muitos danos para subsistência dos pescadores e a todo um circuito económico a eles associado, ou de protelar uma decisão que mais tarde ou mais cedo terá que tomar para defesa da sobrevivência da sardinha nas costas portuguesas.

 

 

Jay Fernandes
Master’s Degree G. Ph. from the University of Lisbon. Academic and teacher. Television , radio and press reporter / commentator

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