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“This is unsustainable” say fishermen as 50 protest against fishing bans

The fishermen are making it clear that either the law needs to change, or recent fishing bans will be the end of a number of local fleets. Around 50 ship owners and fishermen joined the protest set up by the Olhãopesca this morning, arguing against the bans which have lasted “more than six months” and have left hundreds of professionals without work.

The restriction on fishing is due to the presence of waste toxins in local catching areas, which cause illness to humans if contaminated food is eaten. That is, at least, the justification presented by the Portuguese Institute of Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA).

Areas L8, between Faro and Olhão, and L9, between Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António, are the places where fishing has been prohibited, as well as in places around Albufeira. Miguel Cardoso, Olhãopesca’s president, summarized “it is not possible to catch clams practically all over the South coast”, a situation that is already causing great damage to the lives of those who depend on the activity.

“Shipowners are practically prevented from working. There are companies that are going broke. There are boats just sitting in the dock. Fishermen go to other boats, no one can stand so long without earning any income. So the boats stop, the shipowners do not make money and go bankrupt,” said Miguel Cardoso.

Other species can be caught in some places, such as “white clam and damselfish”, but these are “seasonal”, and do not have the commercial value that the fisherman’s usual catch has.

“Directly from the fishing industry, about 250 people are prevented from working. Not to mention the entire chain – dispatch centre, purification centres,” pointed out the president of Olhãopesca.

Joaquim Dias Sousa was one of the faces at the protest this morning in Olhão. At 80 years old, he presents himself as “the oldest here in the fleet”.

He’s had a boat since 1987. It’s called “Ai da Susana” and it is in Fuzeta. With extensive experience in fishing, Mr. Sousa claims that he has no doubt that the shellfish he fishes for are healthy, and without any toxins, which means that this restriction in his opinion is pointless. This theory clashes with rumours that Olhão Council, or possibly an urban development company, is responsible for releasing waste substances along the East Algarve coast, where the bans have been instated.

“I tell those who do the water analysis that their devices must be broken. Come talk to me. I guarantee the seafood has nothing. I have been fishing for many years in this life. We know when something goes on. Some people still continue to catch shellfish, people eat it and nobody has anything, ” he argued bluntly.

Moreover, Mr. Cardoso is also surprised by the presence of toxins when, during the summer, “thousands of people caught and consumed shellfish and there are no known cases of mass poisoning.” “We do not want to take this issue lightly because public health is at stake, but we think it is too precautionary,” he said.

However, it may be the case that such claims from the fishermen, which go against water analysis results, serve to try and push a narrative that all is well, which would allow them to return to regular fishing work, but spawn a risk to public health. Whatever the case, the fishermen are not at fault here, it is the private companies or public entities who are behind releasing the waste substances that are the ones to blame.