The sardine is a fish of the Clupeidae family, scientifically called sardina pilchardus. It has an elongated and sub-cylindrical body, with a silvery blue color on the back and belly, flanked by round and dark spots. The jaw is short and without teeths. It does not have spiny rays on the dorsal and anal fins, and its body has ventral scales in the shape of a shield. With rapid growth, a sardine can reach about 90% of its maximum length during the first two years of life. It can live up to 15 years of age and can reach about 27 cm in total length. However, on the Portuguese coast, young sardines are more common, between 6 and 7 years, of small size, up to 22 cm. The sardines feed mainly on planktonic crustaceans and microalgae (plankton).

Habitat and species distribution

It is distributed geographically in the coastal strip of the North-East Atlantic, in the zone of the continental shelf, an area that goes from Senegal to the North Sea, including the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. In the Portuguese coast, it is distributed along the entire continental shelf up to 100 m deep. Adult sardines can be found in the high seas, while the youngest sardines are concentrated in coastal areas, near the mouths of the rivers, especially on the Northwest coast between Porto and Figueira da Foz and in the Lisbon region. It is a species that has great mobility, forming shoals in the water column, which can exceed 100 m2 area and 10 tons.

The sardine history

Fishing and consumption of sardines in the Iberian Peninsula dates back to the time of the Phoenicians and Romans, during which this species was fished, salted and distributed in an amphora throughout the European and African territory. In Portugal, the recognition and importance of sardines is present from the beginning of the country formation, maintaining the tradition of the ancient peoples who occupied our territory. Sustenance of many populations, especially rural, it has reached a high notoriety outside the fishing and gastronomic scope, occupying space in literature, festivities, popular sayings, among others. In the XIII century, in Lisbon, the poorest population was fed with sardines and in the Ribeira area of ??Porto, in the XIV century, the over fishing of sardines were salted and smoked. In 1387, during the reign of King D. João I, sardine fishing was protected by letter. The consent of the capture of this species in the waters of Lisbon and Setúbal was granted to the people of Porto. In 1456 sardines fishing was permitted on Sunday and on holy days. At the Paris International Exposition in 1855, the sardines of Setúbal achieved an honorable mention. In 2010, sardines were the first fish of the European Union and the Iberian Peninsula to obtain the blue label with the certification of sustainability and good management of the fishing resources.

Boxes with canned sardines in olive oil

Fishing in Portugal

The sardine caught on the Portuguese coast is the only species of fish throughout the Iberian Peninsula to have a quality certification, responding to concerns about the sustainability of resources and species. The type of fishing used mainly in its capture is the art of the siege, also fished in smaller quantities in the drag fishing art, entangled nets and in an art called arte-xávega. In siege fishing, not only occurs the catch of sardines shoals, but also the catch on the same fishing pitch of other small species, such as mackerel and horse mackerel. The combined catching of sardines, mackerel and horse mackerel represent almost 65% of the total fishing discharged at national ports, located in Aveiro, Figueira da Foz, Matosinhos, Olhão, Peniche, Portimão, Sesimbra and Sines.

Health Benefits

Sardine is a nutritionally rich food and very beneficial for health, being an excellent source of proteins with a high biological value. It is classified as a fat fish that provides omega 3, a polyunsaturated fat, which helps in lowering the levels of triglycerides and bad cholesterol, favoring the increase of good cholesterol that contributes to the normal functioning of the heart and the reduction of blood pressure. It is a source of vitamin B3 and D, essential for the absorption of minerals like calcium and phosphorus, helping to fight free radicals.

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