Today I would like to tell you about two groups of people who live a very different life. Like everyone else they are affected by the virus and governmental regulations in fighting the spread, but with very different impacts: Fishermen (Lockdown I) and Liveaboard-Sailors (Lockdown II).
Looking back in time as far as COVID-19 is concerned, reactions from people were very different everywhere in the beginning, the whole spectrum was available reaching from complete denial to fear. Sooner or later governments worldwide began applying measures hoping to slow the spread of the virus, which caused an outcry of many fearing about their freedom, even questions of human rights were raised. And yes, of course, not to forget the impact on the economy.
I guess the difficulty of the situation has reached nearly everyone by now and most people will agree that at the time of this writing (= when all of this started!) the danger with our new virus is especially the fact that too many people require urgent medical and technical help at the same time. There are not many countries who are proud to have a health-system capable to simply deal with the sheer numbers as they come. And have the manpower and equipment needed. Most countries don’t, so the struggle is on.
Portugal started to get active very early. Beginning of March the news spread that our first citizen was recorded to be infected, a guy from Nazaré working on a cruise-ship for the last 2 months, which was currently in Japan. Also beginning of March our President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa went into voluntary quarantine – it fortunately turned out later that he was not infected. That was the moment alarm-bells rung. Instantly the Portuguese Government got busy planning and preparing. The Portuguese are very peaceful people. Remember their revolution? It was the only revolution worldwide ever where no-one got hurt. It didn’t come as a surprise to me that I didn’t hear of any arguing, resistance or open aggression against measures the government decided upon as happened in other countries. The majority did their very best to comply with the recommendations and rules from the beginning.
But, as much as one might want, unfortunately for some of us the most simple of these rules are next to impossible to achieve. I don’t want to go places right now where there is no water. To the contrary, I want to go to a place with a lot of water. Seawater. Let’s talk about the fishermen. To help prevent the spread and protect themselves they are in a precarious situation, they simply can’t, no matter what size boat we are talking of.
The whole thing starts already with the fact that a mask that gets wet is completely useless, so absolutely no point wearing one when working on the deck.
Working the nets or pots or whatever is already difficult and nearly impossible for those who are wearing glasses as they are getting dirty instantly and one can’t see a thing. The same is happening if someone would try to wear a visor – something that would also be completely in the way all the time, so no solution either.
Social distancing while working on deck is impossible, you are working together in close proximity to your mates and there is no way around it. The deck of a boat has a certain space only and around there is noting but water.
For those fishermen going out fishing in the area where they come from there is now “only” the joined ride back to their homes and for the next hours they face the same difficulties as everyone else.
But not everyone is fishing close from home. Especially Vila do Conde and Povoa de Varzim, 2 towns to the North of Porto, have a very ancient tradition of fishing and are sandwiching a place called Caxinas between them. A lot of fishermen are proud to claim they are from there and it doesn’t come as a surprise that many fishing-boats are registered in Vila do Conde and Povoa de Varzim. The majority of these boats is stationed in other ports of Portugal. Like for example Figueira da Foz, Nazaré and Peniche to name just a few.
Usually they would spend a weekend with their families, then head off to where their boats are stationed and go fishing from this port for the next 2 or 3 weeks till it is time to go home for a weekend again, to the place where their families, friends and their homes are.
During the time away from home they sleep on board. Now, we are not talking the luxury-single-cabin-with-steward-version but bunk-beds for maybe 6 fishermen in the same cabin. The only exception is usually the captain, who has his own bunk in the wheelhouse.
Each of these boats has a cook on board who prepares lunch – here’s a quick lunch while moving to a different fishing-ground – and dinner for the Crew.
Some, like “my” family which is the people of Avo Ricardo, also have a workshop here in the port of Nazaré with a kitchen, TV, shower.
Usually they would go out fishing at let’s say 2 o’clock at night, come back between 16:00 and 18:00 in the late afternoon, the cook would instantly start preparing dinner while the others unload the catch and prepare the boat for the next night out fishing. Normally there would be a bit of social time after dinner with mates from other boats stopping by for a chat, maybe a bit of TV, a quick coffee at the harbor-bar and off to get a tiny nap of sleep before the engine starts again at 2 in the morning.
This social part of course had to change now with COVID-19. I am very happy to say that they took the precaution of closing the workshop to everyone who doesn’t belong to the crew. The less contact they have with the outside world the more protected they are, especially as they can’t protect themselves from each other. Imagine the impact of one of them getting infected! Within no time the whole crew has got it and, without even knowing, they would be carrying it home to their families!
Under these circumstances, and taking into account the fact that fish takes a major part in the Portuguese diet, one would expect the price of fish at least to be roughly the same as in normal times.
Well, to tell the truth, the contrary has happened. By law fishermen have to sell their catch via the “Lota” – which is the local and official place where the catch gets unloaded, registered and then sold by auction. By “Dutch Auction” – this means the auction starts with the highest price and goes lower and lower. Since COVID-19 started to affect Portugal, the price fish is selling has gone under 1/3rd of what it used to be. Some of it certainly because people have stopped traveling and Restaurants are closed.
In an attempt to overcome this problem by reducing the amount of fish for sale, the Ministry of the Sea has issued an order on the 6th of April: it shall be prohibited to catch, retain on board or unload fish in ports on the mainland during the period from 22:00 on Friday to 22:00 on Sunday from 10 April to 31 May.
For those interested, here is the link to the article: https://agriculturaemar.com/ministerio-do-mar-suspende-pesca-ao-fim-de-semana-para-contribuir-para-o-ajustamento-entre-a-oferta-e-a-procura/
It sounds like a solution which could be fair for everyone. I cross my fingers for all my friends, and wish you happy Easter!
Fair winds, stay happy and well, Dody