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It is still unclear when to set the beginning of cod fishing by the Portuguese. Learn more about what we know and how codfish became the national foodstuff of Portugal.

It is known that by the earlies 1500´s Portugal already discovered most of the Northwest Atlantic through the expeditions of the explorers João Álvares Fagundes, João Fernandes Lavrador and the Corte-Real brothers. Until the second half of the 16th century, the Crown did not show a clear interest in these newly discovered lands, and the attempt to colonise Newfoundland failed (was later colonised by France and England). From there on, the State took an interest in the cod fishing and trade and Portugal became the first of the many main states to send fleets to Newfoundland and Labrador to fish cod, an activity that Portuguese affectionately call the “great fishery”. The ships were mainly from Aveiro, Viana do Castelo and Porto.

By 1578, just before we lost independence to Spain, there were more Portuguese fishing in the banks than Spanish, English and French. However, due to the damage caused by the English and French corsairs, the silting up of the ports of Aveiro and Viana do Castelo, and a certain negligence of the State, who seemed more interested in the trade of the Indies and the sugar of Brazil, amongst other events of political and economic essence, led to the suspension of fishing by the Portuguese ships until the 19th century. Cod fishing was relaunched in 1835 at the initiative of the Lisbon Mercantile Association using English crews and ships with a new fishing technique that included the use of one-man dories with longline and lead Portugal to return in 1866 to the Newfoundland banks.

During the 20th century, the cod industries went through three different and important stages. The first was the State reorganisation of supply and production, in which after the 1933 Constitution, Salazar’s regime focused on the reorganisation of the cod fishing industry, presenting it to the people as the emblem of the national resurgence. The second was the apogee of the ’50s and ’60s, based on State credit and other protective measures provided by corporative organisations, in which the State gives credits and subsidies to shipowners, to expand and modernise their fleet. The third was the decline of the fishing industry,  during the last quarter of the century, associated with the dismantling of the fisheries oligarchy in 1974  and the changes to the Law of the Sea which created new property rights and put the traditional fishing zones under Canada’s jurisdiction.

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