Tuesday 12 July 2022

"We are the last generation" bringing in the catch at Angeiras

"We are the last generation" said Dona Fatima. She was perhaps 70, quick to smile and happy to talk. I noticed her as I passed by the fishermen's cottages of Angeiras, a small town just 15 kilometres from Porto. She sat in the open doorway of her family's storage unit, waiting for her husband to return with the catch. Her family have fished here for generations but as she explained "The young people don't want to do this work. It is hard and dangerous, they want to do other things".

Dona Fatima

The grey, sea-fretted morning reminded me of my home town on England's north-east coast, where there was once a thriving fishing fleet, but where today there are only a handful of boats. It also reminded me that there is no guarantee of sunshine on Portugal's Atlantic coast during June. The importance of fishing  to Angeiras is emphasised by the paraphernalia stored along the pathway at the edge of the beach. Nets, baskets and flags used to mark the pots left at sea are piled up waiting for use or repair. A black and white cat roamed the nets, looking for tasty scraps and grew angry when one of the locals stroked her tail. Other less active (or maybe less hungry) felines dozed, waiting for the boats to return, knowing they would be thrown the rejected fish from the early morning catch.

Year-round fishing began here at the beginning of the twentieth century  Prior to this, activity was seasonal and related to agricultural work. Small crabs and seaweed were gathered for use as fertilisers. Today's fishing activity includes the catch of pout, bass and octopus. According to a sign on the beach pathway, the sardines and shrimps caught here are considered to be the best in Portugal. The beach is known as Praia des Pescadores, or, the beach of the fishermen.

Dona Fatima was not the only one waiting for the boats. Small groups clustered around the cottages, talking, smoking and hoping that there had been a successful morning's work. Most of the people I met were in their sixties or older, all of them friendly, talkative and happy to be photographed (thank you Signors Salvador, Fonseca and José). Most of their families have been involved in fishing for generations but one young man said he had previously been a carpenter. Corsino Benjamin's uncle was a fisherman and he decided to join him some years ago. Since then he has remained working with the uncle, his aunt and his own wife, Eugenia, only occasionally practising carpentry. 

The boats come in one by one. They are first brought to the water's edge and then pulled along the beach by tractor. In the past this task was carried out by villagers who dragged the boats in by hand. One boat had recently been painted and left a colourful trail on the sand.  Once the boats were sited, the village women emerged and quickly began sorting and cleaning the fish, preparing it for sale at the nearby market. Meanwhile, the men checked and repaired the nets - there is a clear division of labour with "men's work" and "women's work".

Few of the men were happy and most reported a poor catch. Aurelio, also in his sixties said "the fish here were once plentiful but not today". He was removing the small fish that had become stuck in the net, rejecting most of them and throwing them to the waiting cats and seagulls who rushed forward to pick up the treats. From time to time squabbles broke out between the birds as one hungry gull tried to snatch food from the beak of another.

Signor Aurelio

Signor Salvador
Signor Fonseca

Signor José

Angeiras has several places to eat. The street behind the fishermen's cottages is lined with cafes and restaurants. Most of them specialise in fish and sea food but good coffee and the ubiquitous pastel de nata can also be found at the Doce Mar (sweet sea) cafe. On the day of my visit, numerous backpackers sat outside the cafes, some of them in pairs, most of them alone. All were participants in the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, heading for Santiago de Compostela in Spain.There is also has a small but busy indoor fish market where hoteliers, restauranteurs and local families come to make their purchases. The market boasts two delicatessens that sell local cheeses, meat and wine. 

Dona Olindina was selling shellfish from a tiny stall outside one of the restaurants. It's hard to believe she can make a living from this and I wondered if it's something she does in order to keep active and to remain in contact with other people. She nodded and called out "bom dia" (good morning) in response to my greeting. After asking me about my work and family she became philosophical "I'm 82 now. I've bought a plot for my burial. My husband is already there. I don't think we (humans) are really from here. Maybe we are from heaven and when we die we go back there". 

Dona Olindina

I don't often find myself in front of the camera, but I was accompanied in Angeiras by José of Picture Photo Tours in Porto. He assisted me in engaging with the people I met and also took a few shots of me, including the one below, in which I am a little directive! Details of his services are available here.