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Olhão shellfish ban - sewage to blame

shellfishProducers of the famous Ria Formosa shellfish today protested outside the regional office of the Portuguese Institute of Ocean and Atmosphere, in Olhão .

Yesterday 500 shellfishermen had attended a meeting in Olhão's municipal auditorium to voice their anger at the sudden downgrading of their traditional shellfish harvesting banks which meant that many now are unable to sell their harvest on the open market.

The shellfishermen are protesting at a government edict that was issued with no consultation at all with the affected parties.

The government blames Brussels which it claims had the sea water tested last year, in secret. The water failed to come up to EU standards. The government also claims that IPMA endorsed the orders from Brussels and has tried thus to distance itself from the fray.

This new classifications could be disastrous for the 2,500 people dependent on the shellfish banks for their way of life and their incomes. Overall the Ria Formosa has been downgraded from A and B classification, to predominantly grade C, the lowest grade which prevents sale of any catch to the public even after cleaning the shellfish in special tanks.

Shellfishermen leaders said much of the problem is the government’s in the first place as it condones the dumping of untreated sewage and chemically treated into the Ria Formosa which is meant to be a highly protected natural area.

The new mayor of Olhão managed to speak yesterday to the Secretary of State in charge and reported back that the downgrading arose following an inspection by European Union employees last September.

"This inspection was in the face of noncompliance from the IPMA in the methods it used to classify such areas. So the EU ordered new methods to be used,  or close the whole industry. Olhão mayor António Pina believes that this situation scared the government which wanted swiftly to resolve the issue and ordered the downgrading of the whole area, in the full knowledge of the damage this would do to those dependent on the industry.

“The Secretary of State suggested that further analysis was undertaken to resolve the situation but this would take six months - how do people live during this period?" said Pina, acutely aware that the laying off of 2,000 direct and many more indirect workers would be disastrous for Olhão and the wider Algarve where unemployment already is nudging 100,000.

The Communist Party has announced that it will present a legislative initiative in Parliament, with short-term measures to ensure that the shellfishermen can continue as before. It suggests also that in the medium to long term the government should take the Ria Formosa seriously, particularly with regard to the long promised dredging which was announced 13 years ago and has failed to be done."

The Mayor of Olhão said the negotiation now is between Portugal’s government and Brussels and said the government should have done more to avoid this potentially tragic status quo.

The areas affected include the Ria Formosa but cover the shores and islands between Vila Real de Santo António and Olhão where at least 2,500 depend on the shellfish trade, however sewage has been flowing, unchecked, for years with gullible diners tucking into the local produce, unaware of the underlying problems.

With a long term lack of adequate sewage treatment facilities and official denial there is a health issue, the subject is now in play as Brussels condems the seafood as unfit to be sold to the public.

At this afternoon’s characteristically subdued rally, the shellfishermen from Olhão and the islands gathered. The mood was gloomy and there was deep suspicion among some members that a bigger play was being enacted.

Has the government been complicit, rather than just inefficient in downgrading the sensitive shellfish breeding areas prior to the expected gas drilling and production off the Ria Formosa?

Some shellfishermen think this may be the case although many are unconcerned about the government’s gas plans and think that any drilling rigs will be far enough away for any harm to come to their traditional shellfish beds. With tides and currents at play this can never be the case.


This is a handy theory for the suspicous as it would be highly convenient for the oil companies not to have to pay any future claims of loss of income should the worst happen and they cause pollution.

However, most shellfishermen and locals assembled in Olhão believe the sewage problem to be the cause and are concerned at the sudden downgrading of key production areas, blaming inaccurate testing in the past and a lack of investment in treatment plant - if sewage and decomposition enzymes are pumped into the sea this clearly will affect water quality. The answer lies in successful sewage treatment and carrying out the long-awaited dredging.

There needs to be a political solution soon as Olhão's predominant industry is its locally reared shellfish, attracting tourists from all over the world to its summer seafood festival and providing a low-paid but traditional way of life for those who often know no other. 


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0 #10 sebastian wolff 2014-04-04 13:03
@ trublue
You will be fine, loads of clams and fish. :lol:
+2 #9 Trueblue 2014-04-03 15:10
Is this ban still there. Going there on Holidays to morrow and have just read about this. Does this mean that shellfish (clams,oysters,mussels,prawns) are not available in Olhao restaurants?
+2 #8 Laurinda Seabra 2014-01-09 17:15
Algarve Frank

Let's put things in perspective.

Repsol is spanish but the consortium is Repsol/Partex, and Partex although with holdings in offshores is very much Portuguese, after all its 100% owned by the famous Gulbenkian Foundation.

Next: We have to ask, how come how so clean and ethical portuguese gov representatives would allow waste treatment plants to be so badly constructed, and so badly maintained? Some very good incentives (aka brown envelopes), backed by very long term strategies to kill the Ria Formosa and the livelihoods of the local fisherman had to have been conceptualised decades ago. Now, if you are in the oil and gas industry, you know that long-term planning is done 10 to 20 years ahead. Insterestingly enough the "drive" to explore the oil and gas off the Algarve coast has had unprecendented interest and pressure from Partex CEO in past 10 yrs. I guess that is only a coincidence ;-) ...
+4 #7 sebastian 2013-12-10 13:22
Well Algarve Frank, ever heard of renewable energy? I guess not, you obviously dont know how to use the internet......or a bicycle....
+5 #6 Martin Kenrick 2013-12-09 17:33
Perhaps the government would sit up and take notice if the sea water in the area was declared unsafe to bathe in as well as bad for shell fish. Perhaps we should encourage this to happen??!!
+3 #5 Algarve Frank 2013-12-09 10:01
No oil then it is your bike, feet or horse and staying where you were born, probably in the same village!!!!!

REPSOL is Spanish and not Portuguese.
+6 #4 viegas 2013-12-08 21:05
We Algarvians and locals as the English call us, all of us know that the ETARs ( Sewage treatment plant) built in Olhão, behind Lidl supermaket and the other in Faro, near the back of Renault, are built with one tank too few and all the decomposition of the sewage is done by adding artificial enzymes to speed up the decomposition.
What kills the life in Ria Formosa isn´t the sewage itself but the chemicals they put into the tanks. It smells everywhere, so everybody knows!!!

Ria formosa lost , the fishers lost and we all lost.
This is the result of corruption !!! All public institutions, regional and national, all know the problem. What they are doing is to stop the fishermen working to protect the public health. Because to resolve the problem would be admitting tis their fault !!!
How long do we have to wait ???
+7 #3 tom 2013-12-08 13:34
Did you ever get the chance to taste the traditional Portuguese cheese or sausages? If you did you’ll remember the exquisite taste. Now it is illegal to produce “home made food” without a licence. The equipment for farmers was so expensive that most of them gave up and the mass producers were ready to take over. Their tasteless results presented as "traditional made" are now to be found in supermarkets. The main reason is Your Health, they explain but if eating all these products was so unhealthy, how is it possible that Portuguese citizens are still alive, because they produced their "food" traditionally for centuries? Now shellfish are the new target. Putting fishermen out of work to avoid future “drilling disaster” claims must be the real reason from government through pressure from Repsol and Partex. There’s a rumour that the Portuguese will gain €0.20 per barrel from Repsol.
+9 #2 Paul 2013-12-06 21:38
Search on Google for 'ria formosa sewage' the results show a history of evasion, passing the buck, developers ignoring rules, raw sewage, inadequate treatment plants, no maintenance, and the result is sewage pumped into a natural highly protected area that is famed for its shellfish industry. It is scandalous and dangerous, yet so easy to fix if anyone took responsibility. The buck passes so quickly it is hard to keep up..See also
+12 #1 sebastian 2013-12-06 21:26
When last was there a sewage problem in this area? The Algarvians need to realize what the hell is going on here, especially our fellow Portuguese citizens. People are going to look back in 20 years and say why the hell did nobody do something about the oil companies coming in and screwing everyone. Oil IS a dirty word and NOWHERE in the wold is there oil without conflict.

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