The last fishermen of Ovar – 
One Portuguese family endures in the face of climate change and economic perils 

The last fishermen of Ovar

Is a project about the last artisanal fishing family working and living in Cortegaça. The speed of environmental decline that the Fonseca’s negotiate on the daily is a force most of us in the Global North can hardly grasp in its entirety. Against the ever-changing, powerful backdrop of the Atlantic ocean and one family’s struggle to preserve a dying way of life, I hope to provide a relatable yet urgent portrayal of what climate change looks like in 2022.

I first met family Fonseca in 2018 and have been revisiting them since. During these visits, we speak about Europe’s growing appetite for fish and how changing seabeds have rendered their artisanal fishing technique, called Arte Xavega, increasingly dangerous. We also explore why those living with and from the ocean are amongst the first to bear the brunt of climate change. “What we do can’t be sustained for much longer, although it is a very sustainable way of fishing” Maria Fonseca says quietly. At age 43, she is a mother of four and the proud matron of the last fishing family in her village. “It is too laborious and time consuming. We can’t compete with big boat fishing or aquaculture§. The government does not understand, they just keep throwing rocks into the Sea.” In ongoing attempts to stall habitat loss, the Portuguese government has been piling rocks alongside coastlines, but the Fonseca’s know that those are only signposts of endings, not beginnings. “As Portuguese, we are shaped by the Atlantic, one way or another”, Maria says. “But most people think their lives are not affected by the ocean, but it is all connected, everything.”

Published in Osmos Magazine Issue 22

All images copyright
of Guannan Li