This comes after the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advised that sardine fishing be completely suspended in Portugal and Spain in 2018 given what it termed the huge drop in stocks in the last ten years.
The Portuguese government has in recent months appeared to defend the interests of the sardine fishing industry. But Minister Ana Paula Vitorino appeared to make a U-turn on Wednesday when she revealed that sardine fishing along Portugal’s northern and central coastlines would be banned in order to preserve stocks.
The minister added that talks would be held leading up to the weekend between Spanish and Portuguese officials on the one hand and the European Union on the other to agree on limits.
She also explained that officials are already working to draw up the specific areas along the northern half of the Portuguese coastline where fishing trawlers will no longer be able to catch sardines.
The APROPESCA fishing association has meanwhile said the proposed fishing ban in 2018 will lead to the “death of the industry.”
The association’s president, reacting to the Sea Minister’s comments, said on Thursday: “If the ban goes ahead, it will lead to the death of the fishing industry, especially those operating smaller vessels. The minister has no idea of the damage that a ban will cause to countless families”, Carlos Cruz was quoted as telling Lusa News Agency.
He added that while larger vessels would be able to seek out new waters for fishing, fishermen serving local communities would be unable to survive a lengthy prohibition.
The APROPESCA president added that hardly any small sardines were captured this year, which he believes is proof that the sustainability of the species is not endangered. Carlos Cruz says this argument can be validated by port records of all sardine catches that took place during the course of 2017.
“We are here to cooperate. We, above anyone else, need to protect the species. If we were causing any damage or threatening the sustainability of sardines, we would be the first to act”, the fishing chief said.
Algarve MP Cristóvão Norte has in the meantime called for the government to reveal full details of talks it has held and will hold with Spain over the matter, adding that the recent ECIS report has caused widespread alarm.
“We need the government to be more active in this area, we need it to find suitable answers and solutions”, the PSD MP said, adding the minister should explain what is being done to mitigate the consequences of a prolonged ban for communities whose livelihoods depend uniquely on fishing.
Socialist MP Rosa Albernaz meanwhile expressed concern over how restrictions will affect the growing importance Portuguese gastronomy has on tourism, arguing that the sardine is a symbol of Portugal.
These concerns come after an earlier recommendation in the summer called for a ban on sardine fishing for 15 years, which the government rejected.
At the time, the ICES said that rebuilding to above a safe biomass limit with a high probability (above 95 percent) could take around 15 years with no fishing.
The ECIS said this week that due to logistical issues with the Portuguese spring acoustic survey, 2017 data could not be processed for the usual advice timing in July.
The organisation explains in its latest report that numbers of young sardine joining the stock are low, reflected in recruitment and productivity rates, and the stock biomass is substantially low.
The ECIS added that the biomass level limit cannot be reached in 2019 even without any catch in 2018 and advised a zero catch for 2018 in order to help the stock recover.
According to the ICES, sardines stocks have fallen from 106,000 tonnes in 2006 to 22,000 in 2016.
In related news, a study conducted by the University of Porto has revealed that aquatic ecosystems are at risk due to the hormonal pills discharge in the residual waters and to climate change.
The study, published by Lusa, analysed how the increased temperatures (3 degrees Celsius above normal for the season) combined with hormones such as progesterone discharged in the sewers can harm fish reproduction.
Patricia Cardoso, a researcher from the Interdisciplinary Centre for Marine and Environmental Research (CIIMAR) at the University of Porto, explained that most of the hormones are being discharged from hospitals and households.
The researcher said the main problem lay in the wastewater treatment plants, which are not eliminating the hormones as they should and so fish are being especially affected by the changes in their ecosystem. She said that the pharmaceutical industry is constantly releasing new products into the market and it is very important to know which ones are contaminating the environment.