The Gambia’s endowed with a long stretch of beaches mainly used to attract tourists who flood into the country between October and April. But one other big activity along the strip is fishing which is struggling to grow in both artisanal and industrial scales despite continuous government investment and efforts to domesticate the benefits as much as possible.
VOD brings part one of two features, starting with a look at small-scale artisanal fishing at Tanjie village.
Over 200,000 people are employed in the Fishing industry in The Gambia, ranging from actual fishermen to Banabanas(middlemen and women who bring fish to the market and doorsteps around villages and towns) and the transport operators permanently employed in the industry. Not surprisingly, it has caught the attention of the Gambia government who since independence have sought external funding and partnership to invest in the development of the artisanal and industrial components of the fishing industry.
From Banjul to Kartong, the coastline is dotted with fish landing sites equipped with smokehouses, stores and cold stores to enhance production, preservation and maximise catches.
One of the biggest coastal fishing villages is Tanjie in the western region, 20 kilometres from Banjul and home to some 20,000 people mainly dependent on fishing. Close to two hundred boats land fish here daily, and at different times of the day, making it a beehive on weekends when Banabanas and ordinary people wishing to replenish their household needs of this cheapest source of animal protein flood the beach front.
A little distance along the highway towards Gunjur, rows of smokehouses could be seen with thick smoke billowing from makeshift chimneys while huge trucks queue to offload logs of wood used as energy in the smoke houses.
Alieu Barrow from Jarra district works in one of these smokehouses and he believed the industry is full of prospects when richly exploited. ‘’So much fish is caught here that with a good management and right organization, the industry can employ half of Gambian youths,’’ he said. ” The bulk of the fish we smoke here finds its way to Senegal , Mali and other places but there is no proper pricing system so sometimes bosses sell the fish at cheap prices, especially when the catch is abundant.’ So the market is better when the sea is rough and boats cannot sail to fish,’’ he added.
Alieu said the government should help the small and unseen operators such as the fish smokers to form cooperatives so that they could benefit from strong and cohesive leadership to enable them to maximise gains and sustain themselves.
The smokehouses are part of infrastructure including stores own and operated by the Tanjie Fisheries project committee, selected by the village with expertise in management provided by personnel from the Department of fisheries. ‘‘The monies generated from sales of Ice blocks, rent of stores and smokehouses are pumped back into expansion projects and to meet the running cost of maintaining the landing site,’’ said Ebrima Jabang, one of the local officials. But he said most of the people who benefit from the industry are sadly not Gambians. ‘’All our fishermen are Senegalese and though they stay here most of the year but their earnings eventually cross the border meaning a missed opportunity for Gambians who are hardly enthused about fishing. This attitude most changes if we are to take responsibility of and make use of our God-given resources,’’ he said.
Mr Jabang’s worries were echoed by government officials including the President who announced this summer that a 37 million dalasis project is available for youths, especially that resident in the coastal areas to make use of by exploring the fishing industry to the fullest. “I would now love to see the coastal villages set up Village and Fisheries development committees,’’ the president told gatherings in Kartong, another coastal town at the edge of the coastal communities in the region.
However, experts believed traditional practice and concept which gives every ethnic group a defined role, especially as a profession, is hard to be knocked off.”As long as we continue to believe that fishing is for the Moul,(wollof for fisherman) metal work for the smiths and skin work for the cobbler, we cannot progress. And worst, many young people think that fishing is not for the educated man,’ said Mr Jabang who resigned as the teacher to start fishing in 1999. “When I started many people wondered why I opted to fish but today I have three boats of my own landing over D8000 worth of fish daily. How many teachers make that kind of money? Not even the Minister,’’ he jokingly illustrates his point near one of his boats.
According to figures collated by both officials and veteran fishermen using old and modern techniques of estimation, more than 100.000 tonnes of fish is landed monthly in Tanjie, worth a million dalasi.
“Fish is big money now unlike the past when we started’,’ old man Dan Joof, a Senegalese who now settled in Tanjie recalled. All my children are born here on this beach,’’ he said pointing at Eliman his first son who just emerged with water soaked fishing coat and wet feet.
Another feature of the Tanjie beach is the ever presence Banabanas’ who buy directly from the boat and ferry it to on bicycles, car sand Lorries to the market.
Though the early are male, there are now more women middlemen in the fish selling than men.
‘Isatou Manneh who comes from neighbouring Brufut sold fish at the Serekunda market for thirty years and now jointly own special transport that carries tonnes of fish to the market in dozens of plastic pans and airy sacks.
She said fish from Tanjie form the bigger part of the entire supply at the Serekunda market. How do you manage to get there on time for housewives ‘shopping time.”Simple we arrange vehicles overnight and load them with early morning fresh Bonga fish landings, while other species of fish are preserved in Ice coolants and transported later in the morning. We are always on time for shoppers,’’ she said.
Like most coastal villages Tanjie’s economy depends on fishing and would remain so for generations to come as the human craves for this cheapest form of animal protein lasts.
Note.Read our next edition for the piece on Industrial Fishing in the Gambia