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Center for Coastal Culture: Linking the pasts and the futures of the coasts

To learn about past communities, craft and the traditions, we go to a museum. The moment we walk in the door is called present. To look into the future, we go to the modern science center next door. Can we connect past, present and future in one place?

Fire forskere fra UiT foran en nordnorsk færing, en tradisjonell fiskebåt.
In the Tromsø fjord, Jorge Santos, Melania Borit, Anita Maurstad and Gunnar Eldjarn, all from the UiT, stand by two færinger, traditional rowing/sailing boats.Fisheries and wooden boats are at the center of a new research project coordinated by the Maritime Museum in Sesimbra. Foto: Jorge Santos/UiT
Portrettbilde av Santos, Jorge
Santos, Jorge jorge.santos@uit.no Professor (Fishery Biology)
Publisert: 18.10.21 16:15 Oppdatert: 22.10.21 09:53
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A new European EEA project – Center for Coastal Culture - has assembled a city council, a fishery cooperative and a fisher association, museums and researchers in Portugal and Norway.

The core of the project is the small town of Sesimbra, in Portugal, where fishing and maritime trade have been important occupations for thousands of years. Their new maritime museum is collecting, reviving and transforming the traditions of the community. Two research environments in Norway will assist them in their efforts.

Sesimbra Maritime Museum – a community asset

Three persons in front of a local fishing boat, an aiola, in Sesimbra.
The reconstruction of a local fishing dinghy, an aiola, is in permanent display at the Santiago fort, Sesimbra. Here, surrounded by Manuel José, Flávio Zurga and Andreia Conceição, part of the team at the museum. Foto: Andreia Conceiao
Sesimbra traces its genealogy to the age of the dinosaurs, and its fishing to the past five thousand years. “This harbor has been a melting pot for many peoples, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Goths and Berbers, and even the Vikings enjoyed their fish meals here”, states Andreia Conceição, archaeologist at the museum and project coordinator. All these peoples and the present community leave behind many artifacts, traditions, and fishing gear.
The small maritime and fisheries museum, which has recently been nominated for the European Museum of the Year Award, is eagerly collecting this evidence. The seaside fort that houses the museum’s collection has become too small, and a main activity of the project is to renovate an old gallery, the first movie theatre in town. This will become a living conservation lab and a storage and display space of past fisheries technology.
Activities in the lab will promote the interest in wood boat construction in the younger generation. “The museum is an active agent and will continue to support a living maritime culture in the form of public seminars, school and senior activities.
We also organize fishing trips, gastronomy workshops where the locals are the chefs, musical events, as well as the popular live performances by the community and professional groups” says one of the main promoters, Rui Costa Marques, also an archaeologist at the museum. A collaborative exhibition with The Arctic University of Norway is also planned in Sesimbra.

The Artisanal Fishers Association and the ArtesanalPesca, Sesimbra – fish from the sea to your door

The Artisanal Fishers Association and the artisanal fish production cooperative ArtesanalPesca are two organizations of small-scale fishers and producers in Sesimbra. Both were created in 1986, and have 80 and 46 affiliated vessels, respectively.

“The Association represents the fishers in their dialogue with the authorities, assists in administrative issues and promotes professional training”, states António Coelho, the vice-president.

”ArtesanalPesca processes fish from small-scale vessels into fresh, frozen and a canned products, giving added value to sustainable products”, says one of the persons behind the success, Carlos Macedo, food quality engineer and deputy director.

The two organizations are involved in the “Fish Basket”, a fair-trade initiative. This is a popular subscription service that delivers fresh fish, including bycatch, weekly to consumers. As a part of the CCC, the two organizations will receive students from the UiT for training in sustainable market production and will visit fishing centers in Norway for exchange of experiences.

Norwegian Maritime Museum, Oslo – showcasing boat heritage since 1914

One historical reconstructed boat from the end of the 1500's and one traditional clinker-built boat from the northern part of Norway, sailing in the Oslo fjord, right outside the Norwegian Maritime Museum. Foto: Norwegian Maritime Museum
The Norwegian Maritime Museum was founded in 1914 and is located on the shores of the Oslo fjord. The museum displays many interesting indoor and outdoor exhibits in a maritime environment.

Its staff are experts in maritime history, archaeology, and traditional crafts. The boatbuilder workshop is specialized in the reconstruction of archaeological ship finds and traditional clinker-built boats.

The museum has a unique collection of traditional wooden boats, ranging from the Medieval period to the present. These boats are witnesses of life and livelihood along the Norwegian coast.

The boatbuilder workshop and the museum harbour are meeting points for volunteers who share and demonstrate their knowledge and expertise. Together in this project are archaeologists Charlotte Melsom and Sven Ahrens.

FIshing vessels in Portugal
The traditional fishing vessel from Sesimbra, traineras, can operate with different gear, and are often made of wood. Foto: Sesimbra Municipality

UiT, The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø – at the heart of Norwegian fisheries

At the UiT in Tromsø, two faculties joined hands for this project.

The Arctic University Museum of Norway will receive all the Portuguese partners and share its experience in traditional boat building and outreach, by the experienced hand of Gunnar Eldjarn, a philosopher turned wood boat specialist. Anita Maurstad, social scientist at the museum, will advise on coastal and fishery culture.

At the College of Fishery Science, a research group will lead the visitors through modern and possible future fishing technology.
“Remembering the past is a necessary step in the exercise of imagining possible, probable, and preferable futures”, says Melania Borit, a social scientist.
“We want to highlight future working skills, but also the ethical, cultural and ecological references in coastal living scenarios,” adds Jorge Santos, a biologist in the group.
Together, they will assist students developing an interactive, travelling exhibition on the Pasts and Futures of Fisheries and Coasts.

The project at a glance – Center for Coastal Culture


The Centre for Coastal Culture aims to promote the local culture and economy, ensuring sustainable fishing and development of traditional skills. The project will take place in the period 2021-2024, and is co-funded by Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and the Sesimbra municipality, in Portugal. The national promoter is the Portuguese Directorate for Cultural Heritage.

Santos, Jorge jorge.santos@uit.no Professor (Fishery Biology)