Sunday 18 August 2019

Country Matters: Cornwall's little secret on the menu

EXTERMINATE: Overfishing has played a massive part in the forced extinctions of marine species
EXTERMINATE: Overfishing has played a massive part in the forced extinctions of marine species

Joe Kennedy

AS they wait for the tide, fishermen of varying ages and garb sit about an open-sided pavilion on the quayside, playing cards at refectory-style tables.

Some take occasional sips from beer bottles. Men, cards and beer are all waiting for the time to pass. Out of the shade of the shed, the heat of the day may be in the mid-20s, pleasing for most tourists strolling in a fishing village which retains much that is old, especially (as guide books say) a unique quaintness.

The fishermen seem to be from another era and oblivious to gawkers. Two- and three-man crews work small craft with well-worn gear, easing into estuary tide, taking sea swells with care, casting with net and lines for what the ocean may give up.

When landed, each fish seems precious and is handled with care. So different from where I grew up in Ireland, when a catch was shovelled to the quay to be boxed for the market. Small boys, and others, helped themselves with lengths of twine and nails.

If luck holds for these fishermen, a bellied net-bag of sardinhas might be a reward, a good pay-day until another lucky strike. But Portuguese and Spanish small fishermen face the suspension of all sardine fishing because of depleted stocks, at the behest of the International Council for Exploration of the Sea - the world's oldest inter-governmental scientific body.

Lisbon initially opposed this move, but is now to meet Spanish and EU officials to discuss catch limits and areas from which large trawlers will be banned.

A fishermen's group says a ban would lead to the death of the industry, with smaller boat crews wiped out. Bigger vessels, they say, could move to other grounds.

The International Council for Exploration of the Sea say rebuilding of stocks above a safe biomass limit could take 15 years; stocks had fallen from 100,000 tonnes in 2006 to 22,000 last year. A zero catch all next year would be a start to recovery.

Scientific sources cite familiar culprits for depleted stocks: waste water treatment plants and human hormonal discharges in sewage. The pharma industry is "constantly releasing" new products and it is vital to know their effect on the environment.

Meanwhile, nearer home, the men of Cornwall, who some time ago got geared up to take on the Continental market, have been exporting their famous pilchards to Portugal, Spain and France. Ninety per cent of Channel catch now goes there and also to emerging markets in Japan and China. Interfish of Plymouth vessels catch nearly 7,000 tonnes a year and, in a sales drive by Sainsbury's in the UK, the tiddlers are being branded as Cornish sardines full of Omega 3 oils.

British and Irish tourists may not know that a delicious platter of grilled sardinhas was first hauled up in the English Channel. I imagine there are Irish boats bobbing about in this trade also. Irish shellfish may be seen on seafood counters in Portugal.

Joe Kennedy reports occasionally from Spain and Portugal

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life