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Codfish in portugal

The Portuguese Cod-Salting Process

In the 14th century, England and Portugal had trade treaties where they exchanged salt for codfish.

The people of the North had trading networks for dried and salted codfish, but they were less relevant and less systematised than the business network established by Portuguese, Basque and British ship-owners in 16th century cod fishing campaigns.

The big voyages

As early as the 14th century, there was evidence of the first Portuguese boats fishing in the seas of England.

In an attempt to find the sea route to India from the west, the Portuguese eventually came across Newfoundland, which today belongs to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, in the Atlantic ocean, with the great discoveries, codfish became the main staple food. Salted, dried and easy to carry, the faithful friend did not get spoiled during the great voyages around the planet and fed the whole crew.

Codfish in the 15th and 16th centuries

Who ate codfish in the 15th and 16th centuries?

“The consumption of codfish was relatively transversal, although more by members of the nobility and the clergy. There is also reference to dried cod in the shopping lists of hospitals and Portuguese charities.”

Cod-fishing fleet

There are ship registers and campaigns from 1930 to 1976 duly documented in the directory of the Maritime Museum of Ílhavo.

From May to September, large cod-fishing fleets were found in the seas of Newfoundland and Greenland.

Codfish Vessel Creoula

The Creoula is still a legendary name in codfish fishing. This Lugre Bacalhoeiro (codfish fishing boat) was launched on 10 May 1937 and, until 1973, it carried out 37 campaigns in the North Atlantic. A true symbol of national history and culture, it is still active as a Sea Training Ship (NTM) of the Portuguese Navy.


  • TOTAL LENGTH: 67.40m; 
  • HULL LENGTH: 62.64m;   
  • MAXIMUM MOUTH: – 9.90m;   
  • DEPTH: 5.90m; 
  • DRAUGHT:: 4.70m;   
  • MASTS HEIGHT: 36.00m;   
  • NET SURFACE: 1244m2. 

The restrictions imposed by Queen Elizabeth I of England led to the removal of Portuguese boats from the cod-rich banks, creating an instability which lasted until the 17th century.

Cod fishing, known as Faina Maior in Portuguese, was resumed in 1872 by Bensaúde & Cia., and in 1885 by Mariano & Irmão. Challenging the importers’ monopoly, they started to send sailboats to Newfoundland every year.

Riberalves even bought the whole shipment of the Neptune ship, which belonged to the General Partnership of Fishing of the current Bensaúde group. The cash & carry of the West even provided food for the shipping fleets.

Fishing in a dory

The first records of fishing in a dory date back to 1870.

These boats were small, easy to manufacture and fit in large quantities in the “mothership”, which could stack up to 50-60 dories. Fishing was conducted by line in periods that exceeded 10 hours a day on the open sea. The dangers were many: the return loaded with the weight of the codfish; the dories, which were very small and fragile; the storms on the open sea; and what was feared the most by the fishermen: the fog that would cover the vessels for hours on end preventing them from returning.

The Estado Novo and the return to the sea

The codfish campaign accompanied Salazar’s political leadership as well as the main economic cycles of the regime. Supply policies were designed as a decisive instrument to empower the state.

The whole operation was controlled by the state, which set the prices, guaranteed cheap and disciplined labour (through coercive recruitment from the so-called Casas de Pescadores [Fishermen’s Houses]), provided cheap financing for ships and ship-owners and restricted imports.

“The state’s objective was to make subsistence cheap by providing a protein of broad consumption that could block wages and finance social peace.”

(Álvaro Garrido, historian)

In 1942, a programme of renovation of the cod-fishing fleet was implemented, which resulted in an increase from 34 vessels (1934) to 77 (1958). Thus, in just a few decades more than 80% of the codfish consumption in Portugal was accounted for by domestic production.

So vital was our cod-fishing fleet that the men who volunteered to work in it were exempted from compulsory military service. Cod fishermen were elevated to the rank of homeland heroes, the rightful heirs to the sailors who had carried Portugal’s name overseas.