National Geographic : 1954 Nov
Golden Beaches of Portugal 673 Off Sun-drenched Shores the Author Helps Reap the Sea's Harvest in Ways Little Changed Since the Days of the Phoenicians BY ALAN VILLIERS With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author IF I were a fish, I would keep away from the golden beaches of Iberia! Especially would I avoid, like the plague, the whole of Portugal's spectacular coast. Beautiful its beaches might be, but not to a poor fish. All along that sun-swept, picturesque lit toral-from Caminha in the north, past Costa Nova and Nazare and Costa da Caparica and round to Ponta de Sagres and beyond, all along the shimmering gold of the flower-drenched Algarve right to the very borders of Spain, and beyond that, too-40,000 patient, skillful fish ermen take toll of the sea, as they have been doing from time immemorial, hunting fish for food (map, page 677). It has been that way since man began. The sea yields an abundant harvest that requires no seed sown by man. All he needs is the tools to work with, the skill to know where the fish are, and the patience to wait for them. Down through the ages man's tools for reap ing the harvest of the sea have been developed until today, in many places, their efficiency is almost frightening. What with electronic de vices to find the fish, underwater television to watch them, fine-mesh trawls to drag them in by the million, the fish stand little chance. You will find these latest methods of fishing in use off the ports of Portugal, too, if you want to look for them. But after my voyage with the dorymen to the Grand Banks and Greenland I was not interested so much in the scientific slaughter of fish in the mass.* Men Against the Wild Sea My friends the dorymen had told me that here and there along the Iberian shore men still pit their skill and naked strength against the sea. Using methods handed down from the Phoenicians, rowing with huge sweeps, these offshore fishermen go out into the stormy Atlantic with high-prowed boats that look as if they had sailed straight out of the mystic past. The fishermen continue to use such methods, the dorymen said, because they yield enough fish and do not seriously deplete the stocks. Modern methods are all very well, but the skilled old fishermen think of them as murder and fear for their ultimate effect on fish stocks. Banks can be fished out, they say; so it is bet ter to keep at least some of the ancient, well tried methods going. Then, at any rate, there will be fish enough to eat and a continuance of the breed. Where the Centuries Bring No Change The dorymen told me of golden beaches in the north of Portugal where every able-bodied man in town, and all the oxen they can muster, launch huge Biblical fishing craft through the wild surf. The men casting nets upon the waters are dressed in much the same kind of garments, intone the same age-old chants, work in precisely the same ways that have been handed down from father to son for generation after generation. They told me of famed Nazare, with its half-moon curve of shining beach almost cov ered in bad weather with queer little fishing boats, some dhow-rigged, some propelled by oars, with a wonderful old-shoe shape, great high prows, and a big beam to keep them from overturning in the surf (pages 685, 686, and 689). They mentioned also beaches in the Al garve, such as the one at Albufeira, where I would find engineless little dhows still painted with an eye at either bow, so that they can "see" (page 676). They spoke of the great tuna run, the mad rush of the fat fish inward bound for the Mediterranean to spawn, when men put down a giant corral in the sea to stop the finny hordes as they have been doing since ancient days (page 691). Rights in the tuna fishing once belonged to Prince Henry, Henry the Navigator, who tra ditionally established a pioneer navigation school close by on Ponta de Sagres. I found the dorymen had told me the plain truth. I began in the north at a place called * See "I Sailed with Portugal's Captains Coura geous," by Alan Villiers, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, May, 1952.