“The Last Heroes”: A book on the epic of cod fishing

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– Photojournalist and adventurer Pepe Brix on a three-month journey in one of the last remaining codfishing ships and is now publishing a book, which is a tribute to Portuguese fisher heroes.

 

– This book launch is supported by Riberalves and all proceeds go to AMI – International Medical Assistance.

 

During the 50s and 60s, in the heyday of the Portuguese codfishing fleet, the country relied on something close to 80 ships and 4800 fishermen who devoted their lives to fishing cod in the Northern seas. Each fishing trip was plagued with hardships — Portuguese were still fishing by the line in those mythical and minuscule Dories boats. An average of 10 fishermen never made it back these 6-month long voyages and each year history repeated itself.

 

The oldest known document referring to the Portuguese fishing quest for cod is 500 years old. In a way, it was the courage of those first fishermen that eventually made Portugal the world’s #1 codfish consumer — nowadays, consumption amounts to 7 kg per capita. Still, few people who eat codfish have a clear idea of what was behind, or of what still is behind, codfish fishery. In 1952, intrigued by such a remarkably epical activity, Australian adventurer and reporter Alan Villiers embarked on a national codfishing schooner — the Argus —, penned a first-hand report and took the first onboard pictures for the National Geographic Magazine. The article took the world by surprise and this trip would eventually lead to the publishing of a book called “The Quest of The Schooner Argus”. This book would eventually become an iconic document in cod fishing history.

 

The evolution has been remarkable since those days in 1952. Fishing by the line on board of a Dory boat is no longer considered an option. Trawlers and exclusive economic zones became the norm, and nowadays Portugal is mainly a codfish importer. Currently there are less than 10 ships devoted to fishing the “Faithful friend”, but one thing remains unaltered: the extreme hardships that Portuguese fishermen have to endure on their quest for cod. Those hardships are precisely what the Azorean photojournalist and adventurer Pepe Brix captured in his photographs during the three months he spent on board. He was allowed to travel as a Fishery Observant (he even had to complete training to be part of the crew) in one of the last Portuguese codfishing ships: the “Joana Princesa”.

 

Throughout this adventure, Pepe Brix managed to gather an extraordinary photographic portfolio. It is curious to note that part of this portfolio, like that of Alan Villiers in 1952, was published on the pages of the National Geographic magazine. Only this time, in its local Portuguese edition. This work, which was initially named “Postal Code: A2053N” (the plate of the “Joana Princesa”) also led to the production of a photographic exhibition that has been travelling the continent and isles. After the exhibition, the book was finally launched and Pepe Brix accepted a Riberalves challenge: to celebrate cod fishing by launching a tribute to the Portuguese Heroes of Cod Fishing in the form of a book. This challenge was met and “The Last Heroes” landed in libraries shelves this week.

 

“This year Riberalves is celebrating its 30th anniversary, but instead of celebrating 30 years of our company we decided to celebrate cod fishing and the incredible history that lies within as a whole. We believe that the work developed by Pepe Brix is an extraordinary document that will help preserve the memory of such an epical but still relatively unknown line of work. We are incredibly honored to be part of this tribute to Portuguese cod fishing heroes and we would like to thank to everyone involved in the production of this book: from the author Pepe Brix to the publishing house Matéria Prima. Thank you”, said Ricardo Alves, Riberalves’ general manager.

 

“Quando me dizem que foi preciso muito coragem para embarcar três meses nesta aventura, a minha resposta é sempre a mesma: coragem têm os pescadores que se lançam de facto naquela vida, e a ela regressam todos os anos. Foi um privilégio poder fotografá-los e, agora, lançar-lhes esta homenagem em forma de livro. Se é que existe uma grande herança cultural e gastronómica em torno do consumo do bacalhau no nosso país, tal deve-se à coragem destes homens, que nos trazem o Fiel Amigo. Quando a Riberalves me desafiou a colocar este trabalho num livro, partilhando esta homenagem com todos os portugueses, naturalmente só podia dizer que sim. É uma honra e também só posso dizer obrigado, à Riberalves e a todos os que me apoiaram neste processo.”, afirma Pepe Brix.

 

The company processing the most codfish in the world (30 thousand tons per year), current leader in the Portuguese market and a brand that can be found in over 20 countries (40% of its output is sold to foreign markets), Riberalves is a 100% family company that was launched by João Alves. As a child, João Alves used to sell codfish door-to-door with his father in the streets of downtown Lisbon. Back in those days, the codfish that was available in the country was mainly captured by Portuguese ships. Nowadays, the cod fishing quota allocated for Portugal would only meet about 5% of domestic consumption (a yearly consumption of 65 thousand tons). Only 10 ships remain, and on board of those ships the last Portuguese cod fishermen sail for three or four months each year, trapped in metal giants lost at sea, counting the days to get back to their lives and families. These are the heroes Pepe Brix introduces us — rightful heirs to a century-old epic of bravery; with documents from early 1500 referring to cod fishing, it seems reasonable to suppose that the Portuguese fishermen got there even earlier.

 

With a foreword penned by former Ministry of Agriculture and Sea Assunção Cristas, the book “The Last Heroes” is a contemporary photobook with an initial chapter by Paulo Ramalho providing in-depth historical perspective complete with iconic photographs courtesy of Ílhavo’s Maritime Museum. Part of the proceeds from this book will go to AMI – International Medical Assistance. This work was first presented at FNAC Chiado, in Lisbon, last Monday. Further presentations will take place in Ílhavo’s Maritime Museum and FNAC Norte Shopping, in Matosinhos.

 

On Pepe Brix
Born in the Azores. A 30-years old adventurer, photojournalist and entrepreneur, his work was published following travels in the United States, India, Nepal, South America, Central and Eastern Europe. After embarking on this adventure on board of one of the last Portuguese codfishing ships, which allowed him to document the heroic feats of the last Portuguese cod fishers, Pepe Brix undertook and photographed a Lisbon-Beijing-Lisbon motorcycle expedition in 2015.

 

On Paulo Ramalho
Born in 1960. Lives in the Azores. An anthropologist, Ramalho devotes himself to literary, scientific and poetic production. “O Outro Lado da Ilha” is his first novel.

 

On Riberalves
A Portuguese company, Riberalves is a world reference when it comes to codfish processing, producing around 30 thousand tons of codfish per year. Riberalves was launched in 1985, but it only started focusing on codfish processing in 1990 when its first industrial unit was built in Torres Vedras. From 2003 onwards, fostered by a major investment in a new industrial unit in Moita — as of today, the largest codfish plant in the world— Riberalves enhanced its production capacity by 60%. This allowed for the company to establish itself as the leader in the production of a new sort of product that satisfies modern consumer needs and tendencies: the Ready-to-Cook Codfish. Showing a 150 million euros turnover and exporting around 40% of its sales volume, Riberalves is the reference within a business group that also holds companies NovoDia Cafés, AdegaMãe (a 5 million euros investment in winemaking and wine tourism) and Riberalves Imobiliária.

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