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A life with the sea on the horizon

‘Mestre de terra’ * Joaquim Carneiro welcomed ECO123 to the warehouse where he practises his profession at the premises of Docapesca (1) by the river Arade and close to the town of Parchal (municipality of Lagoa). Nearly 84, master Joaquim still works every day, seated among kilometres of fishing nets which he mends with enviable skill and vigour. His discourse is frequently inflamed with the passion of those who still argue for what they believe in and who believe in a better future. Such as when he defends the indispensable practice of the closed season to protect species, or when he criticises the fact that the region has turned to tourism as its main activity, accompanied by the destruction of the fishing fleet and the canning industry. But sometimes, he also shows a serenity which his age allows him in the face of a future in which people like the ‘mestres de terra’ could disappear. Even then, he says with a sad smile, “the work will not stop. No one is irreplaceable, the world won’t stop”.

ECO123: When did you start to learn your profession?
Joaquim Carneiro: In 1942, when I was twelve or thirteen.

Nowadays, what does the profession of ‘mestre de terra’ involve?
Joaquim CarneiroAn encircling net is made up of different sections of net. These are joined one to the other, mesh by mesh, with what we call the ‘porfios’ (derived from a word meaning ‘to sew’). This net has a circumference of about 800 metres. Then we fit out the net, which consists of attaching the floats which stay on top of the water and the weights at the bottom. And you have to know how to do this because the net has a specific width but the ends have to be shorter in order to form a pocket. And so you have to give the net some slack.
So the work of the ‘mestre de terra’ is not just about knowing how to mend nets, you have to know the details of fitting it out – that’s the main thing.
And even when mending the net, you have to match the pattern: the net is cut, there are thousands of strands forming the mesh and you have to know how the ends fit together correctly. You have to know this too, how to keep the pattern of the net.

Is there anyone learning this profession?
From the time when I learnt my trade, only I and one other ‘mestre de terra’ are left, master António in Alvor. And in the past there were 70 or 80 of us in Portimão. Fishing has diminished to such an extent that there are no possibilities at all for young people to get involved. There is no point in learning how to do this, there’s no future for young people in this.

What will happen when you retire?
Once I was repairing the net when master Joaquim from Arrifana arrived, also the owner of a trawler, who said: “Oh, master Joaquim, people don’t repair nets any more, man! You sew it together and when that doesn’t work you get a new one.” When a master and boat owner says that, you can see what things are like? It depends on the economic possibilities of each company. What I do here is make use of the net that is in the best condition. What is no good gets thrown out. Sometimes there are bits in better condition and we use them for mending. In other cases, for people who can afford it, they get new ones.

(1) ‘Mestre de terra’ is a Portuguese expression meaning literally ‘master of the land’ – he is responsbile for maintaining and repairing the fishing nets.
(2) www.docapesca.pt/pt/rede-de-lotas/lotas/ item/portimao.html

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