"We shall shortly have news, which we hope will be good," the minister said, recalling that initial expectations had been for a reduction in the sardine quota.

She noted that already "there is some recovery [in sardine stocks] off the Portuguese coast", but that it is necessary also to assess the situation in Spanish waters.

Vitorino was speaking to journalists during a visit to show the European Commission's director-general for maritime affairs and fisheries, João Aguiar Machado, around the fishing port at Sesimbra.

"Only after looking at the scientific data about what's happening in Portuguese waters and in Spanish waters can a sardine fishing quota for this year be set," she said, recalling that there is a period in January and February during which no fishing of the species is allowed - as agreed with the Spanish authorities in December.

During the visit to Sesimbra, Vitorino said it is necessary to improve the scientific monitoring of fish stocks to facilitate negotiations with EU officials.

while recognising the popularity of sardines in Portugal she reaffirmed the government's intention of promoting other species such as mackerel and horse mackerel, which are equally healthy.

Machado, for his part, told journalists that his visit was to review "good examples" of fisheries businesses in Portugal and to get a sense of what is needed to ensure the country continues to invest profitably in the sector.

"It's a sector that is facing difficulties but which is attractive to the new generation," he said. "It's a sector with a future."