Olhão’s commercial fishing association has pointed out that, despite the long-term ban on harvesting shellfish in the Ria Formosa area due to the alleged presence of toxins, it is not aware that the local population is suffering from widespread poisoning from consuming illicit supplies.
The commercial fishing sector is banned from harvesting shellfish but individual pickers who hawk buckets of shellfish in the backstreets of the city have yet to induce an outbreak of diarrhea, sweating and stomach cramps among willing buyers.
Olhãopesca says that a fleet of around 50 fishing vessels, specially equipped to harvest bivalves, has had to switch to catching low-value white fish in what skippers say is not a commercially viable operation and which is "generating a social problem," since businesses, ship owners and fishermen have no other chance of replacement income.
The local shellfishing industry is vital in keeping the local marine economy active yet the toxin levels in the Ria Formosa seem destined to remain above what the government determines is the safe level.
Many see the water testing system as flawed and feel the government deliberately is hampering their ability to catch shellfish and hence to earn money.
In 2015, the income from shellfishing was €1.086 million and made the difference between profit and loss for the majority of boat owners involved in the trade. There has been an almost constant ban ever since.
During these long and suspect periods of shellfishing prohibition, Olhãopesca says that there are "hundreds of pickers, licensed or otherwise, as well as thousands of tourists and holidaymakers who collect considerable quantities of shellfish from the beaches of the eastern Algarve that are meant to be policed by the Maritime Authority."
Much of the water pollution is from the constant stream of raw sewage dumped in the Ria Formosa by Olhão and Faro councils in deliberate contravention of environmental laws. Little has been done to stop these crimes which, if committed by an individual, would result in stiff fines and a custodial sentence.
For one section of the Ria Formosa lagoon area, the Minister of the Sea, Ana Paula Vitorino has overseen the signing of a contract to establish a ‘marine protection zone’ at Culatra.
The agreement between the Sea Science Center of the University of Algarve and the Residents Association of Culatra Island will reestablish the 'prairie' protection zone scheme which will release oxygen, fix carbon dioxide, stabilize sediment and the ‘coastal dynamics’ and create a zone for marine biodiversity.
This shelter from exploitation helps the increase stocks of many commercial species such as cuttlefish, octopus, clams, sea bream and mullet.
Ana Paula Vitorino also announced the Fishing in a Sea Without Rubbish initiative, promoted by Docapesca in partnership with the fishermen of Culatra and its Residents' Association, Faro Council, trash collection company FAGAR and the Portuguese marine rubbish association.