Recreational shore fishing along 250 km of the south and south-west coast of Portugal was studied based on roving creel and aerial surveys. Surveys were conducted between August 2006 and July 2007, following a stratified random-sampling design and provided information on catch and effort, harvest and discards, angler demographics and fishing habits. Overall, 192 roving creel surveys, 24 aerial surveys and 1321 interviews were conducted. Based on the aerial surveys, a mean ±s.e. total fishing effort of 705 236 ± 32 765 angler h year−1 was estimated, corresponding to 166 430 ± 9792 fishing trips year−1. Average time spent per fishing trip was 4·7 h. A total of 48 species, belonging to 22 families, were recorded in roving creel surveys. The most important species was Diplodus sargus, accounting for 44% of the total catches by number and 48% by mass. Estimated mean ±s.e. total annual recreational shore fishing catch was 160·2 ± 12·6 t year−1 (788 049 ± 54 079 fishes year−1), of which 147·4 ± 11·9 t year−1 (589 132 ± 42 360 fishes year−1) was retained. Although overall shore-based recreational catches only corresponded to 0·8% of the commercial landings (only common species considered), D. sargus catches by recreational shore anglers were considerable, corresponding to 65% of the commercial landings. The implications of these results for integrated fisheries management and conservation are discussed, and future research proposed.