The greatest voyages of discovery, exploration of the world’s seven seas began in the port of Lisbon.
Today there is a new sort of pioneering voyage that is being prepared to sail from Lisbon, a voyage of recovery is vital as the iconic sardine of Portugal is so endangered European authorities are calling for a 15 year halt of all fishing.
Portugal’s Minister of Fisheries declares that the end of sardine fishing for 15 years is unthinkable!
He is right but only if something else can be done to bring back the fish… and that something is being made ready to sail from the very port that first taught the world of the incredible nature of the seven seas.
But before explaining to the minister how there is an alternative to the unthinkable halting of the sardine fishery lets explore the history of Portugal’s leadership of the world about all things to do with the oceans. Humankind’s life on the oceans really began here in Lisbon.
It’s great innovator Portuguese Prince Henry of the 15th century ranks amongst the likes of Leonardo and Copernicus. He gathered scholars, mapmakers, astronomers, as well as navigators, in pursuit of knowledge. He invested in the process of innovation and invention of new technologies and especially in Voyages of Discovery to explore and expand the boundaries of the known world, both for profit, and to spread Christianity.
Prince Henry died at Sagres in 1460. In his 67 years of life (my own age) his Portuguese explorers had found their way south along the coast of Africa, as far as Sierra Leone. His legacy didn’t stop with his death in 1488, Bartolomeu Dias made it around and beyond the southern tip of Africa that became known as the Cape of Good Hope.
Ten years later, Vasco da Gama sailed beyond that last point of ‘good hope’ and on to India. Da Gama came back with riches that rivaled anything in history to that point in Europe.
Then, just two years after that, in 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil . . . and on it went, Magellan and Columbus followed as each explorer armed with knowledge, the ship ‘rutters’ of Portugal the ‘big data’ collectively built upon in Prince Henry’s bank of knowledge.
Lt. Goncalves Neves, who heads the research department at the Portuguese Maritime Museum in Lisbon, says…
‘Portugal’s reach extended from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Tanegashima, Japan, along with everything in-between.’
The Portuguese caravel ship design and rig was first designed out of necessity for fishing on the lee-shore that is Portugal. A rich fishery ensued and has until recently been one of the miracles of Portugal. To go to sea to catch those fish and do so safely with the prevailing winds blowing ashore fishing vessels needed to be able to claw off shore and tack against the wind. The caravel proved to be the revolutionary sailing design that offered Portuguese fishermen that ability. This led not only to Portugal becoming the world’s first great ocean explorers it resulted in what persists to this day their prowess as being among the world’s greatest fishermen.
No country in the world is more closely associated with their tradition of ocean fish anyone who has ever been to Lisbon will recall the presence of fish as art and on menus.
The Portuguese also invented the best and most up-to-date navigational tools such as the mariner’s astrolabe, which helped to plot location by measuring the altitude of the sun and stars. The astrolabe later morphed into the Sextant. As seekers of knowledge they created the equivalent of today’s encrypted computer software, Portuguese ‘rutters’ were accurate maps and sailing instructions that were the most highly prized and guarded of all secrets for centuries.
By order of King Manuel I, the selling of maps showing Portuguese navigation knowledge was prohibited outside of Portugal.
‘Maps were power, because knowledge is power.’
Portugal first discovered the world and with it created a world of commerce. Their monopoly lasted only as long as they managed to keep its secrets from falling into the hands of competitors. Ferdinand Magellan commanded the first expedition that made it around the world. He was Portuguese, hired by the King of Spain because of unique Portuguese sailing knowledge. But the voyage of Magellan foretold the beginning of the end of Portugal’s Golden Age as their global navigation secrets became known.
King Manuel, who outlawed the sale of maps, began in 1502 building the Jeronimos monastery in Lisbon. Behind its Gothic details, it became an extravagant shrine to Portugal’s discoveries — and to its heroes. Vasco da Gama, the embodiment of Portugal’s long history of taking on the sea, is buried there.
Today Portugal’s fish are endangered
Of all of Portugal’s fish none is more iconic than the sardine. Historically it appeared along the shore each spring as if by a miracle. Countless multitudes of sardines have always been the fish of the poor people. An abundant nutritious and delicious small fish. Just now however the Sardines have been declared to be endangered. Headlines in every newspaper have declared the plight of the sardine which has been reduced to a tiny fragment of its former abundance.
Fisheries scientists have declared the danger to the sardine is so great that a halt of all fishing for sardines, Portugal’s symbol and sustenance must be halted for at least 15 years in hopes of saving them from extinction. Many of the most learned scientists in private say that they are not at all sure this will save the sardines, it may already be too late for them.
Who Speaks For The Fish
Moratoriums on fishing have a terrible track record in saving the fish. Take for example the Atlantic Cod fishing moratorium introduced by Canada back in 1990. It was said at the time that ending commercial ‘over-fishing’ would allow the Atlantic Cod to recover. Today some 27 years later the Cod are still not recovered. It would seem that this is a perfect example of choosing to ‘blame the usual suspects’ while ignoring the true problem. The fact that Atlantic Cod and Atlantic Salmon have been simply starving to death at sea once utterly rejected by those who imposed the fishing moratorium is now becoming impossible to reject.
This is a lesson for Europe and Portugal, stopping the fishing for sardines will only divert attention to the usual suspects and away from the real source and cure for the sardine crisis. We can and we must restore the sardine ocean pastures if they are to be sustainably restored. The means to carry out this is immediately at hand, affordable, inexpensive, and will bring back the fish to historic levels of abundance in a few short years.
You can read everywhere on this blog about how I have proven we can bring back the fish.
The question is only whether Portugal and Lisbon will once more aspire, as Prince Henry did centuries ago, to lead the world out to sea this time on vital voyages of recovery. I am writing this post today sitting in historic Lisbon in sight of Prince Henry the “navigator’ and more importantly the ‘innovator.’ Join me.