Fishing by sunrise

August 19, 2013

Lisbon, Portugal

By Jose Manuel Ribeiro

What we don’t see, we don’t know and when we don’t know we can not think about it. But near any of us, can be some piece of news. In the darkness of the night between Golden Beach and California Beach in Sesimbra village, 40 km (25 miles) south of Lisbon, elderly retired fishermen pull long ropes and fishing nets onto the sand.

The same place during the day welcomes thousands of swimmers and tourists on summer holidays without any knowledge of what had been done before dawn.

Trapped between European Union laws, Natural Park Environment regulations, the Portugal financial crisis and their need to survive on a slim pension of between 200 and 300 euros, they keep fighting helped by younger neighbors and relatives as they practice the old fishing technique, the arte xavega. Xavega is a Portuguese word originating from Arabic meaning fishing net.

Master Serafim Painho says this technique was taught to St Peter by the Good Lord in biblical times. Serafim is the proud owner of a three-meter-long wooden boat named 25 April, the date of the Portuguese revolution of 1974 that put an end to the half-century-long dictatorship.

In a row boat they leave the beach forming a wide circle with their nets. They then pull it onshore. After repeating dozens of attempts they have to leave the beach because nowadays they are only allowed fish between 6am and 9am three days a week, between May and October.

On a good day each can earn up to 10 euros and have some fish to bring back home but sometimes they quit even before sunrise. Each year there is less fish in these waters. Any foreigner or tourist are most welcome to help them and always get a part of the catch. It often happens that people watching the elderly hard-working men step in to give them a hand.

The weather is cool and the waters warm as the sounds of the discotheques and bars surround while the men work in silence: pull, pull, pull. Taking photos in little light usually means using a flash. Yet, with no flash you can show the reality that touches our souls. Just close your eyes and think about the dark, cold and silent atmosphere of these elderly retired fishermen.

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