Once the first section of hawser used to pull in the net had been coiled into the tray on the rear of the tractor, off it went toward the waiting 'meia-lua' boat. These craft are called 'meia-luas' because of their distinctive half-moon shape. As it chugged its way up the incline of the beach, all four wheels of the tractor would occassionaly spin and the driver had to adjust the course to a slightly less steep gradient to haul his heavy load over to the boat. Once there, the rope was reloaded into the boat in preparation for its next trip into the water to lay the encircling net.
In the old days, and even up to recent years, these 10-meter boats were pulled into and out of the ocean by teams of oxen. Now, the tractors are used for that purpose as well. Once in the water, the boat is propelled by two large oars mounted mid-ship.
When all was said and done, the final catch of what I assume are sardines, did not really look all that impressive considering the amount of work that went into it. Still, Portugal has always been a sea-faring nation and the bounty of the sea plays a large part in their diet. So, why not continue to reap what you can? At least these people do not have to go far from either shore or home to catch their next meal!
As the net was finally being pulled clear of the water, the small fish could be seen jumping clear of the mesh. Some made it back into the water before the net was completely on land, but the others flipped out onto the beach. This was where the waiting crowd moved in, using plastic Coke bottles and other containers to hold the small fry that they were able to pluck off the beach. Must make a good appetizer!
The excitement was starting to build as the net itself began to approach the shore as the tractors continued to tighten the noose. The net and its haul of fish is just visible as a dark underwater mass on the left side of the photo. By now, all sorts of people were starting to congregate - women, young girls and boys, not to mention the sea-gulls! Some of the men were using long sticks to keep the net up off the sand as it went by them, as you can see in the photo.
There seemed to be quite a crowd involved with the process of hauling in the net, and most of them seemed elderly and weather-beaten. Here, an old lady plucks away at various strands of seaweed hanging from the net and rope as it is winched past her by the tractors. There were three or four people doing this but, from what I saw, they only got about half the seaweed that went by. I guess it is not a critical part of the operation but still lets you feel like part of the crew!
The gentleman in the photo who is handling the net cable as it comes off the PTO seemed to be in charge of the whole operation. I gestured to him if it was alright for me to photgraph their fishing process and he grinned and nodded OK.
Very likely, these people are descendants of fishers from the city of Aveiro, located a short distance to the north along the coast. This was a major fishing port in its day until a huge storm in 1575 raised a sandbar all along that part of the coast, blocking access to its harbour. If you look at a map of Portugal today, you will see that Aveiro is now located some miles from the ocean, with a shallow lagoon between it and the open water. As a result of this catastrophe, many of the fishers eventually drifted to other locations along the coast that provided easier access to the abundant fish stocks.
As we approached the fishing operation, we could see that the 4-wheel drive tractors were being used to anchor the two ends of a fishing net that had been laid out to sea between them.
These two Valmat 4WD tractors are working together at one end of the net. The tractor with the bucket is using its Power Take-Off (PTO) on its back end to reel-in the net cable. As the cable is pulled in, it is coiled and loaded into a large tray attached to the back end of the second tractor.
We were fortunate during our late-afternoon walk along the beach to come across several of the very busy local fishers as they prepared to haul in the day's catch.
Here, you can see one of their nets drying on the sandy beach with a traditional 'meia-lua' boat behind it. Off in the distance is a tractor anchored to one end of the net while the nearer tractors are at the other end of the net which has been looped out to sea between them.