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Living in Madeira : Local Gastronomy : Espada Last Updated: Jun 28, 2008 - 12:29:23 AM

Espada! An important fish for Madeira.
By Jorge Barbosa
Jun 5, 2008 - 5:21:46 PM

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Fishermen from Câmara de Lobos discover the Black Scabbard

It was on one of those trips further out on the high seas that the early settlers cast their fishing lines deeper to catch the widespread Mackerel or “Peixes de Azeite" (translating as “Oil Fish" in Portuguese – so called since their livers were a rich source of oil reserves for oil and storm lamps used in poorer homes of the time, or for night lamp fishing) that the first Espada fish were caught. The fish were extraordinary and intrigued the fishermen enough to develop new fishing techniques to try capture this unusual beast more successfully.

Early catches of Black Scabbard at the fish market

The Câmara de Lobos fishermen, also called "Tangerinos" (Tangerines in English) at the time - due to their sun tanned orange complexions, through some inadvertent trial and error, discovered that the Espada fish were best caught - repeatedly and abundantly - at night! That is, at any time when the sun is not shining directly overhead, or when it is heavily overcast or evening. Since the Black Scabbard is considered to be a sedentary fish it showed great economic promise of becoming a very sustainable resource of income and aliment. Unlike its brethren, the White Scabbard, which changed locations across the pelagic at random the Black Scabbard was relatively reliable to catch. As a natural consequence fishermen sought deeper and further reaches on the high seas to pull their new found prizes away. Fishing nets were useless; special hooks and lines had to be invented. The catching of Espada fish demanded a very long fishing line. Nearly 1,600 metres long! Especially since Espada Preta are "batipelagic" - defined as a species that resides in habitats very deep in the ocean or abysses. Batipelagic depths were once thought to be impossible for fish to survive under due to the incredible sea pressure that any object or thing is subjected to down there.

Did you know?
The actual discovery or first record of Espada fish being caught off the coast of Madeira was in the early 1800’s. In 1839, Richard Thomas Lowe, a British naturalist and zoologist first described the fish and soon afterwards submitted his study to the Royal Zoological Society of London. Lowe attributed the Latin name Aphanopus Carbo to the fish.


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