When the Portuguese talk about sardines, they generally don't mean those tiny skinned and boned creatures compressed into a minute can. They are referring to fresh, succulent sardines, the bigger, the fatter - the better. In Portugal, more than 60 percent of the national sardine catch is consumed fresh.

With about 500 miles of Atlantic coast, Portuguese fishermen can find more than 200 different kinds of fish in the coastal shoals, from cold-water bass and grouper to huge tuna en route to spawning grounds in the Mediterranean. But the traineiras - small trawlers with wooden hulls and diesel engines - bring back smaller catch, such as gray bream, mackerel, octopuses and congers, and, above all, sardines, which count for 40 percent of Portugal's fresh fish production, or about 100,000 tons a year.

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