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Sustainability of the Portuguese North-Western Fishing Activity in the Face of the Recently Implemented Maritime Spatial Planning



The Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) for continental Portugal was approved in December 2019 and has established a novel framework for those players that carry out maritime activities. In light of this challenge, our work addresses the current status of the fishing activity in the north-western region of Portugal, where relevant small-scale fisheries (SSF) are still well established. Based on official statistical data and a stakeholder survey, structural, economic, and social issues that significantly influence the sustainability of this industry were studied. Throughout the 2012–2019 pre-COVID-19 period, the price revalorization of primary products in first-sale markets was the key aspect that allowed fisheries to partially counteract the loss of economic value associated with the decreased fishing production (a decline of 46% of the total nominal catches). Regarding the regional fishing trade network, the fact that a given species reaches a wide range of prices in closely located major landing ports (Matosinhos, Póvoa de Varzim, and Viana do Castelo) constitutes, nonetheless, an issue that deserves attention and optimization. A survey conducted among training professional fishers confirmed a deeply rooted family/regional tradition but revealed concerns about the future generational replacement. The trainees demanded stronger support from the government, a modernization process for fishing activity, as well as higher social salary standards. Moreover, they assigned a high relevance to the sustainability of aquatic resources. In conclusion, the results shown in the present study reveal a noticeable ability of the regional fishing industry to overcome the challenging economic circumstances that have occurred in the last few years. Against the new scenario decisively influenced by the MSP, a generation of future regional fishers that pursue high social and environmental standards is certainly a solid basis for an optimistic future performance of this activity. For that purpose, a firm commitment to the use of technology seems like a key strategy to adopt in order to further the sustainability of the fisheries in the north-western region of Portugal.

Application in MSP:
Type of Issue:
Type of practice:
Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
Coherence with other processes:
Key words:

Questions this practice may help answer:

  • How did the fishery industry evolve between 2012 and 2019 in Portugal?
  • How to explain the resilience of the fishery sector in north-western Portugal?
  • What are the differences in fishermen’s expectations regarding their profession between younger and older generations?

Implementation Context:

This research was conducted in the framework of the e-FishMarket project which aimed to contribute to better fisheries management by using an innovative virtual market concept and to test its potential through appropriate tools.

Aspects / Objectives:

This article provides analysis regarding north-western Portuguese fisheries focusing on key challenges of the activity's sustainability, taking into account the concept's key pillars: ecological, economic and social.


The research focuses on the north-western region of Portugal which counts several established fishing communities and more than 4600 licensed fishers as of 2019. The analysis is based on an annual series of official data, on the regional fishing trade network website and survey focusing on stakeholders (trainees to achieve licenses for professional fisheries) and the Fishing and Sea Professional Training Centre. The surveys addressed 3 aspects:

  1. the tradition of the regional fishing activity;
  2. the fishery profession itself;
  3. the relationship between fisheries and marine environmental sustainability.

Main Outputs / Results:

The paper provides analysis on the fishery sector's resilience in north-western Portugual. This resilience, in the context of restrictive actions promoted by the European Union thought its public policies (including the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive), is mainly due to a price revalorisation in first-sale markets. It also underlines the desire of the younger generations of fishers to modernise their profession though the use of technology.


The practices and methodology presented are specific to the fisheries sector in the north-western region of Portugal.

Responsible Entity:

e-FishMarket–Mercado de Primeira Venda de Pescado Project

Costs / Funding Source:

This article was written in the scope of the project “e-FishMarket–Mercado de Primeira Venda de Pescado” (MAR-01.03.01-FEAMP0031). The APC was funded by the cited project.

Contact person:

 Emilio Salas-Leiton: (ealeiton[at]icbas[dot]up[dot]pt)