From The Madeira Island Web Site

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

How it all began - the discovery of the natural bounty all around Madeira

The Madeira fishing industry began soon after Gonçalves Zarco discovered the Island in the fifteenth century. Many of the sailors that accompanied the discoverer and the colonisers that followed them were themselves fishermen from the Algarve and other regions of Portugal. Initially fish such as the “Garapau” (Blacktail Combers) were caught off the rocky outcrops of the “Pontinha” and the “Forte São José on the immediacies of the Funchal bay area.
Machico bay

Machico today - the area where Gonçalves Zarco first set foot on Madeira Island

Machico, being the shore where the Portuguese discoverers first set foot, also enjoyed an early piscatorial industry. Fishermen cast their nets a few short hundred metres off the shoreline. Later, areas such as Porto Moniz, Seixal and Ribeira Brava also developed communities of fishermen. Caniçal on the south eastern stretch of Madeira was also, as so many other locations around the world were, an important whaling centre too. Today Madeira complies with international laws restricting whale fishing.

Did you know?
The fish is known commonly as Black Scabbard in English or "Espada" in Portuguese. The correct common name in Portuguese is "Espada Preta" so as not to confuse with the "Espada Branca" (White Scabbard), which is also fished off Madeiran shores, albeit uncommon for this epipelagic species (fish that habitate closer to sea level) to be fished on a regular basis.

Câmara de Lobos - an excellent fishing point of departure

It was, however, the beautiful and picturesque village of Câmara de Lobos that became the predominant centre for fishing for Madeira in times to come. Before the village was established Câmara de Lobos was the home of thousands of docile Mediterranean Monk Seals, which - having not known the heavy handed ravages of Man till then - lay themselves to virtual extermination by a rampant and inexhaustible human slaughter of their species.
Câmara de Lobos

Câmara de Lobos benefits from a unique natural harbour

The natural harbour and chamber (hence the name "Câmara de Lobos", chamber of seals - or chamber of wolves if translated literally) that for so long provided shelter to the seal population was, after being so viciously plundered by the recent arrivals, transformed as a strategic point of departure for the adventurous fishermen to venture further towards the bountiful waters of the high seas. Câmara de Lobos soon provided the residents of the island with an excellent source of protein. Sea catches included "Cherne" (Wreckfish), Sardines, "Abróteas" (Larger Forkbeard Fish), "Encharéu" (Guelly Jacks), "Boga" (Bogue), Bluefish, many different types of Bream (including Cow Bream, White Bream, Common Bream, and Zebra Bream), "Bodião" (Parrotfish), "Serralhão" (Atlantic Bonito), Tuna, Cavalas and the abundant "Chicharros" (Horse Mackerel). Many other smaller amounts of other types of fish were also caught including the rather special "Badejo" (Comb Grouper), "Mero" (Dusky Grouper) and "Peixe Porco" (Gray Triggerfish).

Did you know?
While esteemed and honoured scientists in their time Edward Forbes, Fleeming Jenkin and even Alphonse Milne-Edwards made claims that nothing could survive under 450 metres below sea-level the fishermen of Câmara de Lobos were unwittingly proving them wrong.

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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