The tuna fishermen of the Algarve

Many of the beaches in the Algarve where tourists come to relax and play were once the home and work places for tuna fishermen.  One of the best places to experience the change in usage and to glimpse into the past is Praia do Barril. Here the buildings which were the homes of the tuna fishermen and their families from 1841 until 1967 are now being used as cafes and toilets for tourists.

Like most tourists the tuna fishermen didn’t stay on the beach year round. Tuna is a migratory fish, and until the 1960s the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna’s preferred route to and from the warmer waters of the Mediterranean was past the Algarvian coastline. Tuna fishermen would take up residence during the migratory period, and from here launch their fishing boats with the complex network of anchors, enormous floats and nets to capture the fish. The fish heading east was always considered better than those returning west because the meat was much firmer. In the mid part of the 20th century the tuna fishing industry began to decline as the number of fish migrating through the Algarve waters dropped. By 1966/7 the fishing had disappeared, and a few decades later the beaches had become home to tourists. Although out of season there are not many of us!

It isn’t just the buildings which are being re-used. The railway which once transferred the fish now moves tourists and what is left of the ‘fishing frames’ are now perfect for artistic photographs. The frames are now known as the ‘Graveyard of Anchors’ and most visitors assume they were used for drying fishing nets. Graveyard of AnchorsHowever there were in fact part of the complex fishing gear used by the fisherman. A series of channels and tunnels would be created by vertical nets supported by stakes, buoys, cables and anchors. The fish would then be guided into the network and led to a central point where they were heaved out. This excellent video below takes you through the process of creating and setting up the nets, as well as the fishing. The video is 25minutes long (there are 2 versions back to back hence the time of 54minutes!) but you don’t have 25minutes to spare right now then no worries, I have listed below some key times and moments you could fast forward to.


  • tuna fishingPreparing the fishing frames – 2.25
  • Moving the frames onto the boats – 9.17
  • Creating the channels at sea – 14:30
  • Overview of the channels – 15:56
  • Capturing the fish – 21:37

By the way this is my delayed ‘Past Meets Present‘ post. For more information on this blogging challenge click here. I’d love it if you took part. If you are interested in seeing more past photographs of the tuna fishing villages visit the interesting Foto Archaeology Blog which is where I found the historical shots in this post. I’m not 100% convinced though the shot of the houses is from Barril.

Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

22 thoughts

    1. ah yes sorry!! Should have posted a warning. Fabulous video though isn’t it. Really must get myself to the tuna museum to see if they have any others.

      1. Have you read ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by Norman Lewis? It is about Tuna fishing and cultural change in 1950s Catalonia but it could easily be the Algarve!

        1. ooh no . . . . will ask MrB to track down a copy for me. He’s puzzling over another one on Catalonia at the moment, so be good to try this too. Thanks for the tip 🙂

  1. Lovely post, Becky. I love Barril too. It was our first Algarve beach.

    1. Thank you ☺
      It is lovely isn’t it. Not sure I’d want to be on the beach today though. Winds so strong and there are White Horses in the Ria Formosa, so goodness knows what the Atlantic side is like.

  2. A shame Andrew doesn’t do challenges because he could have a good stab at this 🙂 I keep meaning to join you… when I get a minute 🙂 Everything ok with you two?

    1. Oh he so would…..perhaps you should work on him! I might borrow some of his photos one day.
      All glorious here thanks to the lovely weather. Hope all well with you both x

    1. She almost certainly has. It is much closer to her lovely home than where we are. Stunning beach and lots of flora in the dunes ☺

  3. Great post. I went to the Algarve in 1985 and there were still fishing boats on the beach, men doing boat maintenance and women mending nets. Lovely memories, thanks!

  4. Thank you for this post! Barril is one of my favorite places to walk, relax and swim. Now I know more about the history of this charming and natural beauty of a beach.

    1. One of mine too….such a stunning beach. Must be one of the best in Portugal.
      So glad you liked the post too ☺

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